In Kimmery Martin’s second novel, one character tells another, “Sometimes there’s no antidote for what’s wrong,” to which they receive the response, “There’s an antidote for everything…sometimes you just have to figure out what it is…sometimes the cure is worse than the poison.” This sort of pragmatist logic and quasi-medical jargon pack the pages of the author’s sophomore effort. Throughout her latest novel, the doctor-turned-writer builds on the skills developed in 2018’s The Queen of Hearts and works to use the platform of fiction to draw readers into soapy drama structures while pointing to a more serious reality: discrimination in medicine.
The Antidote for Everything focuses on Georgia Brown, an urologist who played a small part in Martin’s debut, who works at a Charleston medical clinic with her best friend, family doctor Jonah Tsukada. Though Georgia’s love life is flat lining, she and Jonah are always there for one another. One day, news starts to spread that the hospital is looking to fire Jonah for providing care to LGBTQ patients that supposedly goes against the clinic’s (founded by a “fundamentalist megachurch”) moral conduct regulations. With her job on the line, too, Georgia and Jonah work to create a plan to convince the board to reverse their decision, quickly spinning their lives out of control and risking not only their careers but also their friendship.
Martin’s greatest strength is in her depiction of characters, painting them vividly across the page in acute details. Jonah, for instance, is described as “the bro genre of millennial, he offered everyone fist bumps and held an incomprehensible fascination with video games and had a thing for craft beer. He wore skinny pants and bow ties and styled his black hair like a Euro soccer star.” Georgia, by contrast, is a redhead with a nose ring, a few discrete tattoos and struggles to be taken seriously despite her strong convictions: “she wasn’t the kind of person who conveyed—or even felt—desperation, even when perhaps she should. She tended to err more on the side of overconfidence…Georgia believed that getting bored represented a character flaw. One should always be able to entertain oneself.” By contrast, Georgia’s love interest, Mark, “had a gallon of milk in his refrigerator older than whatever this thing was he had going on with Georgia.” Building on her already-established ability to show strong female friendship, Martin proves here that she is capable of doing the same for male-female bonds. Her humor, too, shines through, taking advantage of Georgia’s profession whenever possible (“you’d never experienced gratitude until you’d given someone the gift of continence. Not to mention the profound indebtedness of a man who could have sex again.”).
The book struggles, however, structurally, often feeling like a conglomerate of too many ideas forced into the confines of 360-pages. It is worth noting that Martin’s original concept for the novel involved Georgia hiding a fatal illness from Jonah, but that after knowing a physician who was fired by a private practice for treating transgender patients, Martin decided to weave in the medical story with her observations about the discrimination she saw playing out in her state of North Carolina—home of the infamous “Bathroom Bill” requiring transgender people to use the restroom of their sex at birth rather than their gender identification. Both the pursuit of portraying true friendship and massive medical change are noble, but that does not mean they both are given room to breathe. Like watching Grey’s Anatomy, to which the novel is compared, readers will feel tugged by different plot lines, from Georgia and Mark’s love story unfolding during a conference to Amsterdam, to a case of sexual harassment, Georgia’s experiences in the clinic to Jonah’s depression and pain medication overdose. Whether or not readers have the patience to sort out which narrative is dominant without the help of a weekly recap is up in the air, especially considering the book is a bit of a slow burn, often delaying the reveal of pertinent information (such as Jonah being gay) and introducing new characters where they do not always feel necessary. After the fourth joke about testicles plays out among a group of doctors in their thirties, readers will undoubtedly be tested by even the humor.
Hopefully, amidst some of the plot chaos, the much stronger point of the novel will not go unheard for those who stick it out: the question of, “Are we really facing a situation where administration decide who is worthy of medical care and who isn’t?” Whereas most media depictions of medicine occur in liberal enclaves, Martin makes the effort to show what happens when things go wrong in more rural places; ones where the hospital’s weekly newsletter advising women how to balance a career and still ensure their husbands get home cooked meals, can feel straight out of another decade. In the unravelling of Jonah’s character, Martin also shows how social media can negatively impact an individual as much as it can help spread awareness of wrongdoing.
Martin will leave the reader questioning her argument that all issues have anecdotes, leaving them faced with the uncomfortable knowledge that behind one problem there can live a slew of others, each with their own complicated solution. However, if no one tries to solve even one of them, how can we ever hope to solve them all?