Kevin Horrigan.Algonquin Booksof...

THE RIGHT KIND OF HEROE

November 15, 1992|By MARILYN MCCRAVEN THE PUZZLE PEOPLE: MEMOIRS OF A TRANSPLANT SURGEON. Thomas E. Starzl. University of Pittsburgh. 364 pages. $24.95. | MARILYN MCCRAVEN THE PUZZLE PEOPLE: MEMOIRS OF A TRANSPLANT SURGEON. Thomas E. Starzl. University of Pittsburgh. 364 pages. $24.95.,LOS ANGELES TIMES THE NEW YORKER BOOK OF DOG CARTOONS. Knopf. 102 pages. $18.

THE RIGHT KIND OF HEROE Kevin Horrigan.

Algonquin Books

of Chapel Hill.

332 pages. $18.95.

In more than a decade of working as a reporter, the only place ever had my life threatened over a story was in East St. Louis, Ill. Enough said. The town -- to put it mildly -- is rough. Already on the downhill side of life after losing much of its industry and population by the late '60s, the city was left a shell of its former self after the riots in 1968.

But just as vegetation can sprout between cracks in the concrete, East St. Louis has some hard-working people who are able to inspire youths to aspire to greater things. This book by ex-sportswriter Kevin Horrigan looks at one of the city's lesser-known "points-of-light" -- Robert Shannon, East St. Louis High School's football coach. He manages with pathetic

surroundings, virtually no money and almost indifference from the school system to produce champions year after year -- and, more important, strong, proud young black men.

Knowledge of the sport is not a prerequisite for tackling this book. It's good reading on the triumph of the human spirit. The "puzzle people," writes Dr. Thomas E. Starzl in this engaging memoir, are not just the recipients of transplanted organs but those who perform the operations as well -- the surgeons, some "corroded or destroyed by the experience," others "sublimated," but all inexorably changed. Dr. Starzl, a pioneer in liver transplantation, indicates that the change is a result of obsession, for the specialty requires nothing less: With the many ethical, medical, financial and political question marks surrounding transplantation -- not to mention the enormous needs of the patients -- obsession alone permits transplant surgeons to endure the pressure cooker in which they work.

Although Dr. Starzl mentions many colleagues in these pages -- the coal-miner's son who discovered that hemophilia could be cured by liver replacement, the Japanese doctor so interested in liver transplants that he would work for a year without pay -- he remains center stage, describing his progression from perpetual graduate student, to young M.D. with "an intense fear of failing the patients," to a respected, sometimes controversial specialist.

Dr. Starzl speaks frequently but not very effectively of his personal life, making the best parts of "The Puzzle People" his professional war stories, whether in the operating room, the lab, on campus or during medical conferences. "Speaking personally, I haven't had my day, and I've never met any dog who has." So says a bulldog to a spaniel in a James Stevenson cartoon in the long overdue "New Yorker Book of Dog Cartoons." And gratefully, more than a few pooches have their day in this delightful, but all-too-slim, volume.

There's the terrier drawn by Peter Steiner who complains, "It's always 'Sit,' 'Stay,' 'Heel' -- never 'Think,' 'Innovate,' 'Be Yourself.' " There's James Thurber's glorious cartoon essay, "The Bloodhound and the Bug." Or, if wild-and-crazy is more your style, there's a classic example of artist George Booth's Canis berserkus, vibrating next to a sign that reads: "Beware! Skittish dog."

For those who are "New Yorker" fanciers as well as dog fanciers, it would have been nice if the index of artists included original publication dates. While I'm quibbling, a word of explanation -- I call this book "long overdue" because The New Yorker released its volume of cat cartoons two years before this one. However, Man's Best Friend frequently exacts revenge on these pages. My favorite example is Frank Modell's drawing of a man announcing, "Come here a minute, dear. Skeeter's learned a new trick." And darned if Skeeter isn't dressed as a magician and sawing the family cat in half! Who says you can't teach an old dog . . .

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J. WYNN ROUSUCK

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