“In my heart I always wanted to be a writer,” Sandra Block wrote in an email to me.
So I’d heard. That’s why I gave her a book to review when she was an intern at The News one summer in the ’90s. It was a serious one. I wanted to see what she’d do with it.
We’ve been doing such things ever since our current summer intern program here began in 1980. Our success rate – I prefer to call it “our luck” – has been impressive. Let’s just say that the group of our summer interns is loaded with major accomplishments.
Sandra Block was unique in one way: She wasn’t a reporter at the time but an editorial assistant. That’s why I wanted to give her a chance to try out her chops on a meaty subject.
She never followed it up.
That’s not just rare, it’s singular. Our interns have otherwise been either fearful or hungry for major opportunities or (usually) both. And here was one who just left a juicy opportunity on the table before packing up and going back to college.
Now I know why.
“The summer I was an intern at The News,” she wrote to me, “an internal battle was raging (so dramatic!) between medical school and journalism. Medical school won.” So much for her apprenticeship at the Harvard Crimson. And her summer here.
She “found psychiatry fascinating” but “when I went into psychiatry, I found I didn’t enjoy it. I used to give myself a pep talk before each patient and in the midst of one of those I realized, I did not want to give myself daily pep talks 20 years from now. Neurology was a better fit.”
So Dr. Sandra Block has now been a practicing Buffalo neurologist for 14 years. (Her specialty is sleep medicine.)
“But I couldn’t get rid of the writing bug. I wrote a medical thriller 20 years ago that was roundly rejected and had pretty much given up on writing until a few years ago, when I listened to my heart and decided to try again.”
Thus Block’s new novel “Little Black Lies” (Grand Central, 341 pages, $15 paper), wherein Block joins the somewhat astounding and altogether wonderful literary Renaissance that has been happening among Buffalo-raised writers at least since Lauren Belfer’s “City of Light.”
Block’s book is a psychiatric thriller whose protagonist is Dr. Zoe Goldman, a psychiatrist over 6 feet tall who pops Adderall for her ADHD, Xanax when needed and has nightmares about the childhood fire she was in that book her birth mother.
Therein lies what must be investigated in the plot.
Her adoptive mother now has Alzheimer’s. (Subject for students of Buffalo’s fiction Renaissance: Why are mothers in the books of Buffalo-raised writers so given to Alzheimer’s? See also Greg Ames’ “Buffalo Lockjaw.”)
Just as Stephen Talty’s “Black Irish” gave us a homicide detective who came back to South Buffalo with a fancy education (Harvard) and then appeared in a second novel, Block’s “Little Black Lies” gives us a struggling, truth-seeking shrink with a fancy education (Yale; Block went to Harvard). She is now thoroughly at home in Buffalo and going to the “Coffee Spot” not far from Starbuck’s. (Just reverse the words for a real and well-known mini-chain of coffee emporia.)
In “Little Black Lies” it seems that no trick is being missed in trying to place the book into the world of social reading that has accounted for so many books sold since Oprah Winfrey launched her book club. At the end of “Little White Lies” are 17 questions thoughtfully provided for any sort of discussion that might be prompted by the book. (No. 10. “How are Mike and Jean-Luc different? Which one do you think Zoe ought to end up with?” No. 14 “Do you think Zoe will maintain a relationship with Jack? Would you?”)
The second Block Zoe Goldman novel will be called “Girl Without a Name” and it will be published by Grand Central on Sept. 15.
I cannot overstate how heartening it is to me that the sons and daughters of a city that so valiantly fought obvious decline have manifested so much love for this city between book covers.
Nancy Reisman’s second novel “Trompe l’oeil” (Tin House, 344 pages, $15.95 paper) will be published May 12. Her first “The First Desire” was, unlike the new one, deeply embedded in her upbringing in Buffalo’s Jewish community as the daughter of a physician and a painter.
The advance copy of Reisman’s book comes festooned with a blurb from “Sarasota bookseller” Georgia Court calling “Trompe l’oeil” “perfect for a book club, because it offers so much fodder for discussion: How do we define ‘fault?’ When does a house change from being a home to being a trap? Is it inevitable that children born after a death of a sibling will be considered mere replacements for the one lost?”
That, as I say, is down the road a few weeks.
We have Block’s “Little Black Lies” in bookstores now – from a writer who was in the Nichols School graduating class of 1988.
You remember them: Her classmates included Ed Park, author of the 2008 novel “Personal Days” and a founding editor of The Believer; and documentary filmmaker Nanette Burstein, whose boxing documentary has been unanimously praised since 1991 and who went on to make “American Teen,” “Going the Distance” and the Robert Evans doc “The Kid Stays in the Picture.”
Oh yeah. There was one more notable national figure in the class of 1988, along with all those writers – a 6 foot 11 future March Madness stalwart and Basketball Hall of Fame inductee named Christian Laettner.