A White Coat Is My Closet

A White Coat is my Closet

Jake Wells

Reading this book is a little like taking a long hike with a friend who hasn’t explained where you’ll be going. About halfway through, readers will wonder if the story has an actual destination or if the point of the hike (and this book) is just to look at the scenery. While this is great on a hike, it’s very unsettling in a novel about a closeted gay doctor, his Italian boyfriend, and one of the doctor’s cancer patients.

Dr. Zack Shelton, in his last year of his residency in a Los Angeles hospital, accidentally runs into Italian waiter Sergio Quartulli a few times before the two of them actually get together on a date. That’s because Zack is pretty much married to his job, which he is very good at doing, and is so far in the closet that he almost can’t admit to himself that he’s gay.

Although he does have some close friends who know about his sexual orientation, Zack’s afraid that if his coworkers or the parents of his patients know he is gay that he will be ostracized and booted from the hospital before he graduates. He’s especially fearful when he’s around a loudmouth, homophobic surgeon and an acerbic nurse with whom he works. But Zack and Sergio get along so well that his insecurities begin to break down and he realizes that even if he doesn’t out himself at work, for his own piece of mind, he must do it with his family and his close hospital friends.

While Zack’s nearly constant inner monologue about his hidden gay lifestyle take up a majority of the narrative, stories about the day-to-day problems and triumphs during his rotation with the sick children he treats make up a good part of the rest. Zack is a wonderfully caring physician who genuinely loves children and is amazingly good with them, especially when they’re feeling poorly.

As a friend, lover, and co-worker, Zack has his stellar moments, but his joking and kidding around seem a little stilted and forced. The supportive Sergio comes off as much more laid back and human.

Fortunately the little scenes with the patients are more telling about Zack than his interactions with anyone else. Since Zack understands their hesitancy about doctors and the hospital and sees how they pick up on their parents’ and siblings’ fear, he’s developed very clever ways of overcoming his patients’ apprehensions and getting them to cooperate as he examines them and often prepares them for surgery.

So even though readers might get confused as to where the story is going in parts of the book, Zack’s kind heart and bedside manner go a long way toward helping readers persevere. A good editor would have helped even more to make this story shine as it should.

Since author Wells is a physician himself, it will be interesting to see if he has any more stories up his sleeve. If he does, I for one will be eager to read them.