The Visiting Physician

The Visiting Physician

a novel

by Susan Shreve


Meridian, Ohio seems like a nostalgic reverie of the American heartland, a place where community spirit and old-fashioned values have not been lost. Certainly this is the image promoted by a big-network television documentary — an image that the townspeople protect at the price of splitting Meridian apart. Helen Fielding, a young pediatrics resident, arrives as a “visiting physician” to treat a bacterial outbreak that threatens Meridian’s children. She is presumed a stranger in a town poisoned by an undercurrent of hostility and resentment in the wake of the documentary. But Helen is no stranger to Meridian. Her family vacationed there when she was a child, until the central shattering event of their lives — the disappearance of Helen’s little sister. As Helen discovers the betrayals at the heart of Meridian’s disintegration, she also learns the terrible secret in her own family, bringing hope of redemption to the town and, for Helen, the possibility of genuine love.


The afternoon sun spread a golden ribbon across the railroad tracks, coloring the faces lining the station platform deep-crusted yellow. WELCOME TO MERIDIAN, the sign over the stationmaster’s door said. Beside it, half obscured by a new poster of a missing child and written in red, were the words “the pure products of American” used to advertise the three-part television series on the town of Meridian broadcast by CBS in early May.

“She’s late,” Reverend Benjamin Winters said, his arms folded tight across his narrow chest. He was a tall, awkwardly put-together man of unexpected temper, older than his pretty wife, whose choice of a profession in the service of God had come not of conviction but of deep misgivings. “What good is a doctor without a sense of time?” he asked of no one in particular.

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