Published by Coffee House Press
Publication date: May 12th 2015
Job’s father sends him from their homeland in Nigeria to America to study to become a doctor. Instead of doing so, Job flunks out of college but continues to tell everyone he is still studying. At twenty-four he uses some of the tuition money on a green card marriage thus ensuring he never has to move home and acknowledge his lies. This is the beginning of the quicksand foundation laid out in Julie Iromuanya’s debut novel, Mr. and Mrs. Doctor. Almost two decades after his supposed graduation and into his fictional medical career in Nebraska it is time for Job to marry properly (having long divorced his fake American wife) and rather than pulling the curtain back on his lies, he forges forward with them by going back to Nigeria to marry the bride he has chosen. His new wife Ifi knows only that she finally has a chance to escape her aunt’s home and to marry a doctor and live in America so if she is somewhat older than the pictures her groom has seen of her it is a minor lie. The collision between Ifi and Job, as they negotiate a life based on lies is the heart of Mr. and Mrs. Doctor.
A protagonist named Job automatically sends the mind towards the biblical character who was beset with horrible misfortunes to test his faith, but this Job does not need a god for his problems; he is more than capable of creating them himself. Which he does by dropping out of school, getting his green card through a scam marriage, spending money he does not have, and trying to be a man he is not. All this right up until true disaster hits at which point Job is faced with either acknowledging his lies and trying to create a real life or continuing down the broken path of deceit. In Iromuanya’s hands Job is a fluid character in that even though they are his choices they feel as if they just happened to him and are largely beyond his control. In this way, he engenders feelings of sympathy yet his willful denial of reality makes him difficult to like, especially when these choices impact those around him.
Mr. and Mrs. Doctor threads its way through the messy world of being foreign in America. The novel plays the seeing-and-wanting aspects of American abundance against the ability to have it. Job works hard at two hourly jobs, but he is not a doctor and yet, wants to live that life; even when he is being shaken down by his ex-wife, he can’t admit he has no money. Where Iromuanya flexes her creative muscles is in her unflinching portrayal of this man who comes to America for the American dream but, believes it should just happen to him without effort on his part. The scenes of frenetic spending—especially on a television that is too big for the apartment and for which they don’t even have cable to watch it or for rounds of drinks at strip clubs are the types of attitude that make caring difficult. And yet, there is compassion for all the instances of racism Job, Ifi and their friends encounter and regarding the cultural differences between their homeland and the United States. By using the broad stereotypes of people and place Mr. and Mrs. Doctor strips them bare, leaving only the bones of human sadness.