Author and Doctor Gerald Yukevich, also known by his pen name Ivan Cox, has released a compelling new novel. Blood Pudding vividly paints the grim consequences of a desperate young mother’s fatal, self-inflicted abortion. Using bark slivers from a slippery elm tree, she performs the crude procedure hastily, secretly, and all alone in her bedroom.
The scene takes place a century ago in a poor coal mining and zinc-smelting company town near Pittsburgh. But with abortion rights recently vanishing, similar events might soon be reenacted across the country. Desperate American women, deprived of their once sacred reproductive rights, are left with the rough and risky options their grandmothers and great-grandmothers were forced to choose.
In Blood Pudding, Eva Malinowski dies rapidly of sepsis and hemorrhage. Her son Tad, then eight, witnesses and describes her final moments. Tad goes on to narrate in first person the gruesome aftermath, as he and his six motherless siblings struggle with Jumbo, their alcoholic ogre of a father, who abuses them mercilessly, randomly, and with Tad’s oldest sister, sexually.
Despite the cruel, hardscrabble scenario, the action-packed tale is filled with colorful characters, ironic humor, and finally triumph, as Tad eventually escapes from the “blood pudding” of his dysfunctional family. Gerry emphasizes, “In writing my novel I wanted to show what can happen to a mother and her family when a horrible mistake is made. This is exactly what happened to my father when he was eight, and I grew up hearing the story of how all of that played out.”
Perhaps Blood Pudding seems so real, because much of the novel, including the botched abortion scene, is drawn from true tales told to the author by his father.
Sitting at his piano, in an in-depth interview over zoom, Ivan/Gerry spoke about his inspiration behind the novel. “Long ago I got this story percolating in my head through talking with my father.”
During the course of the interview Gerry spoke about his fascination with the stark difference between his childhood and his father’s. His father faced gritty depression era struggles as a Polish immigrant. In contrast, Gerry and his two siblings reaped the benefits of his father’s hard work and his devotion to his family. This included having a loving and wise mother, a comfortable childhood, and later private boarding schools and Ivy League degrees.
Gerry followed in his father’s footsteps and chose medicine as his profession. He had always felt a calling towards the creative arts, whether it be writing or acting in plays or exploring musical adventures on the piano. Having majored in English Literature at Princeton, as an undergraduate Gerry read intensely the works of Melville, Faulkner, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and of course Dickens. From the moment he first dipped into the works of these authors, he was a die-hard fan for life. “And I thought my father’s terrible childhood resembled passages from some of the works I was reading. It was all there: despair, poverty, the injustice of society, and human heroism.”
After Princeton, Gerry attended medical school at the University of Cincinnati and then moved to Boston for his internship and residency. He lived in Boston for twenty years, practicing emergency medicine at area hospitals. Meanwhile, he maintained a parallel artistic career, writing plays and poetry, acting, founding a theater of farce, publishing a “free form art sheet” and working on novels. His classic com nautical saga Cruise Ship Doctor, originally published in 2003, has been republished. “Cruise Ship Doctor,” Gerry remarks, “has a laugh on almost every page. Blood Pudding, however, has mostly tears.
Gerry’s move from Boston to Martha’s Vineyard in 1995 was in fact prompted by a theater gig. Gerry and his wife Martha with their then 1-year old daughter Anna drove down from Boston to perform at a James Joyce Bloomsday celebration. “It was June 16, and the island was in full, magnificent blossom. Martha and I scouted the island and decided it was an ideal place to bring up our daughter. So we put a bid on an old Whaling captain’s house (don’t forget I’m a big Melville fan), I soon joined a medical practice, and we’ve never looked back. The artistic community here is fabulous, constantly stimulating us with theater, music, marvelous dinner conversations, and there is gorgeous natural beauty all the year round.”
Gerry’s motivation to write Blood Pudding was inspired by a poignant moment in his life. “Yes, one brisk day in March, way back in 1985, I went to the Pittsburgh cemetery where my grandmother had been buried back in 1920. I was with my father and his siblings, all still alive then. I saw these old people, who were my aunts and uncles and my father, all kneeling on the damp grass by their mother’s grave. They remembered her as a strong young woman who had ended her life unintentionally through a secret, desperate act. She was beautiful and barely 30 when she died in 1920, and on that day in March,1985, they were all well past 70 and fairly decrepit. Suddenly snow started falling on these old souls praying at their young mother’s grave. The vision was mordant, pathetic. I thought: someday I have to write about this, it’s just too much. So that’s why the first scene of Blood Pudding takes place at the fresh grave. The first action is when Tad sees his mother lowered into the ground forever.”
Gerry continues, “So Blood Pudding starts with the consequences of a botched abortion, but the scope of the novel extends much further and depicts immigrant life close-up, often brutal, but with sustaining love that somehow nourishes Tad all his life,”
When asked about what was next for author Ivan Cox, Ivan spoke about a saga that he plans to release in the coming years. “I have much more to tell about the Malinowski family. I’ve plotted out two more novels to complete the saga, to weave the whole family tapestry.”
Still at the keyboard, Gerry notes that when he does public readings from Blood Pudding, he likes to set the tone by first performing a brief Chopin piano nocturne.
“You see, Chopin’s melodies have such a lyrical, and nostalgic quality – the same haunting element I have tried to place into the stories and images of Blood Pudding. And I think I’ve succeeded. In fact, I just heard that Kirkus Reviews has honored Blood Pudding as one of the top forty indie books out of the several thousands they reviewed this year. I think Chopin would be pleased by that, as would my young Polish grandmother.”