An Animal Life: A Chance to Cut is the second book in Howard Krum’s award-winning series about life as a vet. Part 2 follows a group of veterinary students in their second semester, focusing on Mike London, a cocky vet school senior who nearly ends a dog’s life and tries to rebuild his life. The phrase “A chance to cut” is a surgeon’s motto: “A chance to cut is a chance to heal,” so London tries to mend his life through medicine, humor and romance.
This is a book for vets, aspiring vets, and pet owners alike. I only count myself in the latter category, and the book is eye-opening about how demanding and sometimes crazy the life of a vet can be. Pet owners can be an eccentric lot, and losing a pet can be like losing a child, so the book covers the gamut of emotions, from heartrending to hilarious. There’s fascinating information about caring for all types of animals, from the common to more exotic marine wildlife.
Having not read the first book, I can safely declare that this reads very well as a standalone book, and includes a handy summary of the first book to get you started. You’ll likely want to read the first one after starting here. It’s that infectious a read.
Though it’s deemed a novel, it reads very much like non-fiction. That’s not a knock against it: it reads like a great, illuminating work of non-fiction (including a glossary), but the facts of veterinary practice are as important to the narrative as character and story. Put another way, this reads like it really happened, and “novel” is merely a cover to protect the innocent. It even has a quiz at the end about veterinary practices; Krum is obviously aware that his book is more of an exposé than a novel.
Whatever the case, the writing is enormously entertaining and colorful. It takes a fair bit for a book to make me literally laugh out loud, and this book did so frequently. Krum just has a way of turning a phrase. Here’s how he introduces one character:
Emergency vets, as a breed, come in a rainbow’s spectrum. From cool ultraviolet, caffeine-infused adrenaline junkies to warming infrared peaceniks like Flo Kimball. Small animal surgeons, on the other hand, have only two flavors on tap: super-pale wonder ale and ultra dickhead stout. Both brews begin with the same primary ingredient because it requires a whopping slug of confidence to take a glorified razor blade and slice into a living, breathing animal life. But ego can also be a liability and Dr. Keith Peters — with a bantam, clog-boosted stature and entirely fleshy nob for a head — was a dickhead extraordinaire.
Lest you think A Chance to Cut is all fun and games, it’s not. What makes the book so satisfying is that it doesn’t shy away from truly difficult scenarios, and Krum is never overly snarky in these moments. There’s a tenderness to this book, with welcome comic relief binding it all together.
One thing that does have to be mentioned is the cover. For writing that’s so polished and professional, the cover could really use a do-over. The quality of the cover has nothing to do with the quality of the prose, so don’t let that dissuade you from reading the book.
All in all, A Chance to Cut does everything a good book should do: it’s educational, it’ll make you laugh, maybe even cry, and you won’t want to put the book down once you’ve started. A great read.
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