“This is an excellent historical novel, so real that the biting winds of the western frontier seem to flutter across its pages and cool our sweaty brows. Within this, however, is something much more profound—a dark and gripping morality play about friendship, ambition, and the very essence of what it means to be a doctor. This should be required reading in medical schools. I will not soon forget this book.”
—Jake Halpern, author of Fame Junkies and commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered
“The ethical questions that envelop Doctor Beaumont and his patient are here laid bare for all to see—sliced through by Karlawish’s sharp scalpel of finely-honed research . . . One can’t judge this tale without pondering the possible experimental horrors our own bones and flesh might be enduring in our own time.”
—Jackson Taylor, author of The Blue Orchard
“This is a remarkable story, compellingly written, of how one man’s ambition brings him both the fame he coveted and crushing failure. The propriety of a physician treating his patient as a living laboratory and as an avenue to personal glory is set down for the reader to judge. Beaumont was a man both desperate and delusional, yet one who advanced medical science albeit with questionable methods. A provocative read from cover to cover.”
—Don Faber, author of The Toledo War
“A highly readable and plausible reconstruction of the medical and personal interaction between St. Martin and Beaumont.”
—Richard Selzer, surgeon and author of Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery and the novel Knife Song Korea
“Open Wound is a fascinating novel about scientific ambition on the American frontier. Read this fine book for its meticulous reconstruction of nineteenth-century life, and for its evocative portrait of a medical researcher whose hunger for success leads him down an ethically dubious path.”
—Karl Iagnemma, author of The Expeditions
A shotgun misfires inside the American Fur Company store in Northern Michigan, and Alexis St. Martin’s death appears imminent. It’s 1822, and, as the leaders of Mackinac Island examine St. Martin’s shot-riddled torso, they decide not to incur a single expense on behalf of the indentured fur trapper. They even go so far as to dismiss the attention of U.S. Army Assistant Surgeon William Beaumont, the frontier fort’s only doctor.
But in the name of charity and goodness, Beaumont ignores the orders and saves the young man’s life. What neither the doctor nor his patient understands—yet—is that even as Beaumont’s care of St. Martin continues for decades, the motives and merits of his attention are far from clear. In fact, for what he does to his patient, Beaumont will eventually stand trial and be judged.
Rooted deeply in historic fact, Open Wound artfully fictionalizes the complex, lifelong relationship between Beaumont—a prominent figure in Michigan’s medical past and present—and his illiterate French Canadian patient. The young trapper’s injury never completely heals, leaving a hole into his stomach that the curious doctor uses as a window to understand the mysteries of digestion. Eager to rise up from his humble origins and self-conscious that his medical training occurred as an apprentice to a rural physician rather than at an elite university, Beaumont seizes the opportunity to experiment upon his patient’s stomach in order to write a book that he hopes will establish his legitimacy and secure his prosperity. As Karlawish portrays him, Beaumont, always growing hungrier for more wealth and more prestige, personifies the best and worst aspects of American ambition and power.