Luis Jaramillo on genre-blurring, memory, toast, and his new book, The Doctor’s Wife.
Early on in my conversation with Luis Jaramillo, I admitted that I’d never spent any appreciable time in the Pacific Northwest, the setting of his new collection, The Doctor’s Wife. Of course, ignorance lends itself to mythology, and I certainly mythologize the region; mile high trees, virgin air, and ten thousand hearty hikers are delights that come to mind. But I reasoned, prior to reading, that my unfamiliarity with the Pacific Northwest wasn’t necessarily bad. In fact, perhaps it provided an ideal reading state. My mind, unhampered by experience, might conjure a place rendered by this collection alone.
I was grateful, then, that the stories in The Doctor’s Wife not only accommodated my regional make-believe, but also grounded themselves in an understated, graceful prose; each piece is exacting and all the while generous. These taut vignettes work together to limn a family that spans three generations. Within this family, we follow three siblings who grow up together with much mid-century vigor. Their vitality is as much a product of one another as it is of their idyllic surroundings. Here we are witness to the kind of West Coast family whose children hurry to change for the lake, their bathing suits “still slightly damp in the lining from the day before.” They play Monopoly under a tree, beg for another dog, and pick their zits. Their father is The Doctor, and their mother—The Doctor’s Wife—is everything else: a costume sewer, a community organizer, and a breakfast maker. She is also now a mother of four, but her new baby is not well. Quietly, it’s this terrible illness that plagues the family, though the game playing and lake swimming continue. Later we track young adulthoods darkened by loss. The third generation does not escape this tragedy, and in fact yearns—as we discover—to uncover exactly how this sadness settles amidst their family’s past. All the same, we’re warmed by this family, the woman at its core, and the stories they all must tell.