Disability Studies Quarterly
Spring 2005, Volume 25, No. 2
Copyright 2005 by the Society
for Disability Studies


Daitz, Ben. Delivery. Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press, 2004. 259 pages. $21.95, Hardcover 0826332439.

Reviewed by Johnson Cheu, Michigan State University

Delivery is aptly titled, both literally and figuratively, for it is both a novel that has, at its center, the botched delivery of baby Calvin, a child with profound disabilities, whom others refer to as a vegetable; it's also a novel in which one is waiting for something to happen: for Calvin to die, for the lawsuit against Dr. Dorgan—the doctor on call who delivered Calvin—to unfold, for Calvin's gold-digging father to exact his revenge. None of this happens, so the novel ultimately ends up as a bad episode of The Practice or Boston Legal — all set-up and character development, but no climatic event to bring the novel to a close.

To be sure, Delivery has a great premise: successful doctor Matt Dorgan is being sued years later for the botched delivery of baby Calvin, the child of welfare mom Clarisse and no-good trailer-trash dad Junior. Along the way, we meet an interesting cast of characters: social worker Pilar; her gay brother, attorney Greg; physician Tex. The problem, at least from a disability perspective, is precisely that — that it becomes a novel about all these characters and their lives, rather than the life of Calvin. Now, to be sure, not every disability-centered novel needs to have the voice of the disabled character at its center. Nor can one fault Daitz for constructing Calvin as a child who cannot speak, and then being true to that characteristic. Nor is the medical/social work perspective an invalid one to explore in fiction. But it has been done better elsewhere, in texts such as Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1998) or in the work of Rafael Campo. The issue here is that either because Calvin has no voice, or because as Dorgan asserts, "It wasn't a miracle he lived, it was a fucking shame, and everyone on staff knew it" (27), there's no reason for the reader to become emotionally involved in either the circumstances of Calvin's life, or to feel compassion for the havoc that his birth supposedly brings on Dorgan's life. And, as I've said, there's no trial here for readers to sink their teeth into, to be able to really see and feel that havoc.

So we're left with a character study of the types that emerge when disability supposedly befalls a family and community: the burdened, yet still somewhat benevolent doctor, the beleaguered social worker, the long-suffering mother, the money-grubbing, trailer-trash father. But we've seen many of these archetypes before, better drawn, and better fleshed-out. However, the novel is not a total wash-out. It gives us a glimpse into the life of the Southwest, though I would have liked a bit more about how the welfare systems operate there, and the interlocking narratives of these characters work quite nicely to give readers a glimpse of the effects of Calvin's birth on the community. But, in the end, unless one wants to read a novel which asserts that life is sometimes just an endless spiral of unfortunate circumstances that just happen (yes, it's a bit like watching the movie "Traffic"), Delivery ceases to deliver much that is startling or new.

Copyright (c) 2005 Johnson Cheu

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ISSN: 2159-8371 (Online); 1041-5718 (Print)