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I'm not at all sure what to say about this book. In my neck of the woods, even to utter the word “abortion” is to provoke a reaction. Just across town from where I'm now sitting, an abortion provider was gunned down on a Sunday morning in the lobby of his church. Signs emblazoned with “Choose Life” and other less subtle exhortations stand sentry along the highways here, white and red paint breaking up the view of corn and wheat and pastureland. It seems the topic is always simmering right under the surface of daily life, and when it comes up for discussion, the tone is rarely if ever calm and respectful.

So perhaps it's understandable that I'm hesitant to recommend this book, or to acknowledge that I read it at all. I don't want to discuss the moral and ethical implications of seeking or performing abortions. I'm not interested in debating much of anything on this site, and I certainly have no desire to try to change anyone's mind on such a close, personal topic.

I just want to read and recommend good books.

So here's what I'll say about Gabriel Weston's Dirty Work: It's the story of a doctor, an ob-gyn, who makes a terrible error in the operating room that nearly ends the life of her patient. This is the issue at the heart of the novel, the guilt and responsibility and shame the doctor feels at her failure. That the tragic error occurs during a termination is important, but it's not the full story, just as one mistake in a lifetime doesn't solely define a person.

Any book dealing in weighty subject matter like this is bound to challenge and affect the reader. I admit there were parts that were hard for me to read. But it's a testament to Weston's storytelling ability that I kept turning pages, gripping the spine for dear life. (Weston herself is a practicing ear nose and throat surgeon.) I read this book almost without putting it down in the course of a rainy morning. I was transfixed, and not in a sordid, voyeuristic way—rather, I was overwhelmed with a confusing mix of curiosity and compassion for this main character. I was driven to understand her, and though the book was perhaps too brief and cryptic to achieve that fully, by the end I had caught at least a glimmer of who she was and why she did what she did.

If you're looking for material to back up your political or religious beliefs, or if you're looking for a cut-and-dried soapbox rant to quote on a sign, Dirty Work will not give you those things. If, however, you want to explore complex themes of right and wrong, guilt and innocence, and if you appreciate a compelling story even if it unsettles, this book is worth reading.