Dental books you won't want to put down

July 2, 2012

No doubt that Charlene Wexler’s many years of working in a dental practice has influenced what she writes. Her first book, “Murder on Skid Row,” was published in 2010 and is about a newly minted dentist who starts his practice in a seedy part of Chicago in the mid-1960s because he wants to serve Chicago’s most needy people, but gets caught up in a murder investigation. Her second book, “Milk and Oranges,” is a compilation of her short fiction stories and essays.

No doubt that Charlene Wexler’s many years of working in a dental practice has influenced what she writes.

Her first book, “Murder on Skid Row,” was published in 2010 and is about a newly minted dentist who starts his practice in a seedy part of Chicago in the mid-1960s because he wants to serve Chicago’s most needy people, but gets caught up in a murder investigation.

Her second book, “Milk and Oranges,” is a compilation of her short fiction stories and essays.

“Most of the essays will make you laugh, but some will bring a tear to your eye,” said Wexler, who is married to dentist Dr. Sam Wexler, a collector and authority on dental history who has been the force behind several dental museums and exhibits, including one at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. 

She said it’s no surprise that the dental world plays a major role in her writing.

"My life has revolved around dentistry,” Wexler said. “I’ve been immersed in all aspects of it, including the insurance, the paperwork, the history. It’s been a family business.”

Wexler worked for many years as a bookkeeper and assistant in her husband’s dental practice that grew to have 10 offices. Her first-person knowledge of what it’s like to be involved in a dental practice shows up in “Murder on Skid Row,” and lends the story its sense of believability.

As the book’s narrative develops, the reader wants to find out who committed the murder and also whether the young dentist, Mel Greenburg, will keep his practice in Skid Row or move, as his well-heeled fiancé and father insist, to the safety and monetary reward of a suburban practice.

Readers familiar with Chicago in the 1960s, particularly the once rundown area of Madison and Halsted streets, where the story is focused, will find that “Murder on Skid Row” accurately evokes the time and place.

Wexler’s newer book, “Milk and Oranges,” touches on both serious and light-hearted fare. The essays include stories about retirement, about the tragic loss of a child and another that recalls a family road trip to Florida in a stripped-down, non-air conditioned GM van.

Because Dr. Sam Wexler is a collector, the journey to Disney World with the couple’s two young sons also included side-trips to old dental offices where he might find some interesting memorabilia to add to his collection.

Charlene writes in one essay, “Pack your bags!” “We’re going to Disney World.” Hurray!” The boys and I would yell, not realizing that we would be on the road 10 days out of 14. Sam’s real objective was to track down antique dental equipment. He’s a dentist, historian, and most of all, a pack rat.”

Charlene Wexler’s stories often are humorous and she doesn’t mind comparisons to Erma Bombeck. While she pursues her passion for writing, her husband continues to collect. The couple lives in Richmond, Ill., about 75 miles northwest of Chicago.

“We do live in a museum,” she said. “I’m not kidding. I have 20 dental cabinets here.”

For more information on Charlene Wexler’s books, check out her website.