John Murray trained as a doctor, and his debut collection of stories, A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies, reveals its author's background. Not all of his characters are physicians, but they tend to share a doctor's ability to concentrate on details and compartmentalise emotions. In "The Hill Station", the American-born daughter of Indian parents returns to India, where she speaks at a conference on infectious diseases. She is charged with new, ungovernable feelings when she finally meets actual patients suffering from the disease in which she is a specialist; previously, she had only known cholera under a microscope. Murray bumps his heroine into a new, looser way of living as she travels deeper into dirty, disease-ridden India.
In the title story, a doctor mourns the loss of his sister and comes to terms with his family history, all the while examining butterflies. In "Blue", a climber ascends a Himalayan peak under dire circumstances and encounters ghostly memories of his father. These stories of frustrated, intelligent achievers can recall Mark Helprin, and Murray has, too, some of Helprin's ambitious scope. These stories aren't as crystalline as Helprin's, but that's a small complaint to lodge about an elegant first collection. --Claire Dederer, Amazon.com