A compelling story that keeps you intrigued and turning the pages, Heather Frimmer brings us Better to Trust (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing), her latest and greatest in medical fiction. 

Allison needs brain surgery. Realizing her life may never be the same afterward, this glimpse at mortality causes her to rethink her future and consider making changes by revealing a secret about her sexuality that will impact her marriage but also allow her to live more authentically. 

Grant is Allison’s brother-in-law. He is a top surgeon and the one Allison insists perform her operation, yet Grant has a dirty secret of his own. His battle with drug addiction has gone unnoticed up until now, but his pill-popping has taken on a life of its own and, at any time, it could impact the outcome in the operating room. 

Sadie is Grant’s daughter. She has been making some less-than-desirable choices in her teenage life and hanging out with the wrong people, hoping to be accepted.

Temptation, crumbling family relationships, drug addiction, brain surgery and infidelity will keep you intrigued as this family, faced with challenges, pulls themselves together with love and trust. With a dual timeline and multiple points of view, Heather Frimmer gives us a well-rounded perspective of each of the relationships and the characters’ individual struggles. I loved this family story and how they came to trust each other again.

Q&A WITH HEATHER FRIMMER

Q: In Better to Trust, the main character has a brain injury. What made you decide to focus on the brain and how did you research this?

A: I got the idea for Better to Trust when an acquaintance told me a family member had successfully performed a minor procedure on her husband. When I heard this, I got a massive case of the what-ifs. I wondered, what if the operation was a major one, and what if it didn’t go as planned? Right away, I knew the operation had to involve the brain; nothing else could possibly have higher stakes.

Though I am a doctor, my practice is far removed from neurosurgery. I did a lot of reading on stroke, aphasia, neurosurgery and addiction. I also found a group of incredible beta readers, which included neurologists, neurosurgeons, addiction specialists and speech pathologists. I asked them to be honest about any parts that didn’t ring true and suggest ways to revise accordingly. 

Q: When beginning this book, did you always know Alison would be pushing the boundaries of sexuality and be caught up in an affair with Becca at the same time she endured a brain injury?

A: Yes, I knew from early on that I wanted Alison’s story to be about how this traumatic event spurs her to reevaluate her life from a new vantage point, how her close call with mortality makes her braver and stronger and better equipped to embrace a different future for herself. From the early drafts, Alison’s relationship with Becca played a major role, and I fine-tuned the details in later drafts.

Q: Grant shows signs of addiction, and every time he popped a pill, I cringed. Do you think it is possible for a medical professional to have a problem that flies under the radar?  

A: Absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt. In fact, most hospitals offer some form of the professional assistance committee featured in the novel to support impaired physicians on staff. As humans, physicians struggle with various impairments, including drug and alcohol addiction, psychiatric disorders and disruptive behaviors, amongst others. Because of the macho culture in the medical world, admitting there is a problem is often a difficult first step. 

Q: You tackled many topics including drug abuse, intimate relationships, friendships, sexuality, brain injury, love and trust. Did you know you were going to explore each of these ideas or did they just emerge?

A: At the outset, I knew I wanted to explore the ethical issues around operating on a family member and the complications of physician impairment. The other issues and themes just naturally worked their way into the plot as the characters emerged and blossomed. I’ve tried outlining, but it just doesn’t work for me. I need to let the story develop naturally and see where it goes. This method definitely means more revising later on, but I can’t do it any other way. 

Q: I love how Nate, the caregiver’s son, has no issue with Becca and Alison as a couple. Do you think the younger generations are more open and accepting?

A: One hundred percent. The character of Nate was inspired by my younger child who truly accepts everyone as they are, no questions asked. When my older child came out as non-binary and started using they/them pronouns, Ari didn’t skip a beat. He mastered the pronouns within a few days, while my husband and I still occasionally make mistakes over two years later. 

Q: Temptation runs rampant through your novel, and the characters struggle with drugs, stealing, infidelity. How did the title, Better to Trust come about?

A: This book had a different working title, which my publisher did not love: Where the Blame Lies. During a brainstorming session, we kept coming back to the word trust. I scoured the internet for quotes and found this one from Eric Sevareid: “Better to trust the man who is frequently in error than the one who is never in doubt.” I knew right away it was perfect. The quote now serves as the epigraph, and the title also appears in dialogue when Alison first sees Grant as a patient in his office. 

Q:  Would you classify your books as medical fiction, and is this a genre you plan on sticking with moving forward?

A: Yes, medical fiction is the best description, and I do plan on doubling down. The world of medicine is rife with dramatic stories, and people are fascinated to get a peek behind the curtain. My work in progress centers on an obstetrician struggling with an anxiety disorder and a patient who is suing her for malpractice. I can’t share much more because I’m still figuring it out myself. 

Q: If Better to Trust became a movie, who would you want to play the main characters?

A: Because I rarely watch TV, I’m terrible at this game. Maybe Lily James as Alison, Amy Adams as Cynthia, Josh Duhamel as Grant and Katie Leclerc as Becca? I just watched a compelling show on HBOMax called The White Lotus. The actress who played Olivia, Sydney Sweeney, has the perfect level of snark to play Piper, but she’s a bit too old for the role.

Q: I know you are a voracious reader. What have you read lately that you recommend?

A: I just read and loved What a Happy Family, the new novel by Saumya Dave, a fellow physician novelist. This one touches on mental health, immigrant culture and family ties. Another recent favorite is No Hiding in Boise by Kim Hooper. This book is amazing, and I haven’t heard much buzz about it at all. The story centers on a shooting in a bar in Boise and is told from the perspectives of three women: a bartender who hid in a closet during the shooting, the wife of one of the injured victims and the shooter’s mother. I am in awe of how Hooper created empathy for all three characters and wove their complicated stories together so seamlessly.

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Heather Frimmer is a radiologist specializing in breast and emergency room imaging. Her first novel, Bedside Manners, was published in 2018 and has received several awards including National Indie Excellence, Readers’ Favorite and Independent Press awards. She completed her medical training at Weill-Cornell Medical College, New York Presbyterian-Cornell and Yale New Haven Hospital. She lives with her husband and two children in suburban Connecticut.