The idea for Dr. Judith A. Ferry’s debut novel, “Parallel Lives,” had been gestating for quite a while before an invitation from her neighbor on River Street helped make it a reality.
A native of New Orleans and graduate of New York University School of Medicine, Dr. Ferry, who is now a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital specializing in the diagnosis of lymphomas and leukemias, as well as a Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School, has called River Street home since 2011. She had been mulling over what would become the storyline for her novel over the course of about 10 years, but admits she never thought she would finish the novel until she mentioned the project to her friend and neighbor, Jenny Attiyeh, in around 2014.
Attiyeh immediately encouraged Dr. Ferry to join her Beacon Hill Writers Group, which then met every other week at one of the homes of its half dozen or so members, and these meetings compelled Dr. Ferry to finish a new chapter to present to the group each time.
The Writers Group eventually disbanded amid the pandemic, but not before Dr. Ferry had nearly finished the first draft of her novel. As the pandemic wore on, Dr. Ferry went on to finetune and finesse her story, she said, “and now, it’s a book.”
The original impetus for “Parallel Lives,” however, goes back to a conversation Dr. Ferry had years ago with a college-aged friend who mentioned his father couldn’t wait to get him out of the house. But unlike this scenario, Dr. Ferry began to imagine a converse situation with a father fleeing his family instead.
“That was the kernel, and I built the story around that,” she said, adding that in her novel, a transgression committed by one of the characters drives the character’s father to abandon his family and feign his suicide before settling down to live somewhere else on his own.
“Parallel Lives” begins as the story of Alexander Eastgard, an athlete and a scholar, and Patrick Close, Alexander’s best friend. When Alexander’s rival, Hector Gonzalez, causes Patrick’s death, this tragedy sets in motion an ominous chain of events in the lives of the characters. The novel starts off with the principal characters in grade school and then follows Alexander, Patrick, and Hector through high school. Patrick dies soon after they graduate from high school, and then the storyline traces Alexander’s and Hector’s lives through middle age.
“It is the tale of a passionate, illicit affair, the apprehension and imprisonment of a drug lord, the descent of his son into addiction, a suicide with no body, and a hidden gun that falls into the wrong hands,” according to a synopsis of her novel written by Dr. Ferry.
Asked what types of readers she expects “Parallel Lives” would most resonate with, Dr. Ferry replied, “I think my book would appeal to a broad audience because it’s fiction. It’s not for children, but it would appeal to bright young people and adults.”
The novel was “written on many different levels,” according to the author.
“On one level, it can be a beach read,” said Dr. Ferry. “It’s an exciting book. There’s passion, betrayal, murder – a lot happens.”
And on another level, the book explores many pressing contemporary issues, such as the opioid epidemic, alcoholism, and even abortion, she said.
But despite touching on these present-day matters, Dr. Ferry said, “Ultimately, the book is crafted around a modern retelling of the story of the Iliad.”
Alexander and Patrick in “Parallel Lives” represent the Iliad’s Achilles and his closet companion, Patroclus, respectively, while Hector in the novel is the counterpart of the Hector in the mythical Greek poem.
“Hector causes the death of Patrick,” said Dr. Ferry, “and if you’re familiar with the story of the Iliad, you know how [my novel] is going to end in a broad sense, but there are many detours from the Iliad.”
Since the novel’s publication in November, it has already garnered a number of glowing reviews from readers on Amazon. “That’s made me feel really happy,” said Dr. Ferry.
One Amazon reviewer wrote: “With the publication of her excellent debut novel, ‘Parallel Lives, ‘Judith Ferry joins the ranks of distinguished physician authors. The novel includes themes of friendship, enmity, passion, betrayal, and ultimate redemption. The prose flows seemingly effortlessly (and there’s some poetry too), the characters are well developed, and the story is riveting. A rewarding read, and an auspicious debut.”
Some of Dr. Ferry’s fellow physicians at Mass General were equally surprised and impressed to learn that she found the time to write first novel. For many of them, this revelation came during Dr. Ferry’s introduction for a Grand Round presentation at the Lahey Clinic, which made mention of her book. Some of her work peers are now among those lavishing “Parallel Lives” with praise.
But despite the glowing reception Dr. Ferry’s debut novel has so far received, readers shouldn’t hold out for a sequel. “I think the book ends where it ends so I’m not really thinking of a sequel,” she said.
Instead, Dr. Ferry is planning to strike out in an entirely different direction for her second novel, tentatively called “Kidnapping in the French Quarter.” As the title suggests, she will draw on her upbringing in New Orleans this time to tell the story of a kidnapping in the French Quarter. Some of the book’s characters would even live on the street in New Orleans where Dr. Ferry called home as a young girl.
“It’s a bit of a remembrance of things past and writing about that city while incorporating aspects of it that I know and love,” she said.
And while Dr. Ferry still considers herself something of a newcomer to the world of writing fiction, she credits a lifelong love of reading for setting her down this path.
“I am a serious book addict,” she said. “At any given time, I have a print book that I read when I have time to sit down and an audiobook that I listen to when I am moving around. My love of books was one factor that led me to write a book of my own. I have tried to incorporate what I learned from reading so many wonderful books over the years into my writing.”
“Parallel Lives” is available on Amazon and also via Book Baby: (https://store.bookbaby.com/book/parallel-lives1).
A discount is available on the print book through Book Baby.