Sunday, April 25, 2010


This book took me awhile to get through and I couldn't figure out why. The story is very touching and, at first, I thought it would be hard to read about death and such for obvious reasons. There was a chapter wherein Bernice, the mother, talks about losing her daughter and I got a little teary-eyed I'm not ashamed to admit.

By the end of the book, I was really attached to the characters and that is a sign of a good writer. If you can make your reader care then you're golden. While the plotline of this book itself is not all that exciting, it is the relationships between the people that really makes it a novel worth reading.

Alex Voorman

Alex is probably my favorite character in the novel simply because he seems to react to the whole thing so humanly. His wife decides to be an organ donor and then, when she dies, he okays the harvesting of her organs. That, in itself, would be tough enough. But then that is prolonged by Bernice, who wants to meet the woman who got her daughter's heart, and Janet, who actually got the heart, and Jasper, the one who hit Alex's wife and killed her. While some of his reactions seem childish and whatever, I definitely think more people would react like him than Bernice.

Now that I'm going through this as I am I wonder if Stephen Lovely meant to create such foils between Bernice and Alex. Yes, the tension between them is there because they both have different ideas in mind about how to react to Janet but, looking at them figuratively, they are direct opposites of each other and, therefore represent the different choices one could make in their situation. You could be like Alex and try to pretend that your loved one's heart isn't out there beating in someone else's chest. Or you could be like Bernice and accept it and want to meet the recipient. I guess it's all a matter of perspective.


Bernice is a lonely older woman who finds comfort in Alex because he is a part of Isabel, her daughter. I was moved, as I said before, when she tells so succinctly about her loss. In her I see a woman who is searching for any remnant of the things that have been taken from her. A woman desperately clinging to normalcy. She finds this in an odd way. Lotta, Janet's mother, contacts her and they communicate via email constantly. To Bernice, this is something she has to do.

Janet Corcoran

Part of the beauty of this story is that it tells both sides of the story: the donor's family and the recipient's family. I had never thought about how people waiting for organ transplants could begin wishing for a tragedy so they could receive their needed organ. And I had not understood how, with heart transplants, the heart is denervated (sp?) so it's really not as fully connected as a heart you are born with. I guess it sense.

Janet is a pretty likable character although it seems like she just lets things happen to her. She seems like a victim in more ways than one. At the end, however, she gives some great words of wisdom with Alex and Bernice. Her husband leaves her (spoiler, sorry) but she remains strong. She's a very interesting character because she manages to be both vulnerable and strong at the same time.


Jasper is the antagonist which is an interesting move on Stephen Lovely's part. I had hoped that he would make Jasper less crazy, weird, and intense and a little more sympathetic. At first that was where I thought he was going. Maybe he realized that it would be hard to get his readers to sympathize with someone who drove a little recklessly and accidentally hit a woman on a bike and killed her. Whatever the reasoning behind making Jasper the antagonist, I think it was handled really well.

Isabel Voorman

While she only appears in the prologue, alive, Isabel is a huge part of the book. She is an underlying current beneath it all, forcing the people's lives together. It really is quite remarkable how one person can affect so many lives even after death.

With that being said, let's talk about the relationships in the book.

Bernice/Alex: I like that they rely so much on each other and have become such good friends. Neither of them really have anyone else to keep them company. Part of Alex feels obligated to be around Bernice and to take care of her but, at some point, he realizes that he really does value their friendship. Ok, here's a little spoiler so beware. At the end of the book there is a scene in which these two kiss. While the chemistry was there before, I tried to ignore it because it made no sense to me. I thought I was just reading into things. But no. This scene came out of nowhere yet it made sense at the same time. I just did not understand why it was necessary because right after it just kinda got blown off.

Jasper/Alex: Very nice conflict of course. A good tension exists between them. It's interesting how Jasper thinks that Alex will accept him and want to be friends with the man responsible for his wife's death. Even if it was an accident it just seems wrong.

Jasper/Janet: While they don't meet until the very end, at the climax of the book, it seems like Stephen Lovely wanted to make it seem like Janet would accept Jasper. When they finally do meet it is quite the opposite and that is a great scene. I respected Janet more by the end of that thing. And the beautiful thing that came out of it was:

Alex/Janet: After Jasper confronts Janet, Alex saves her (spoiler, again, I'm sorry) and, from then on, their relationship changes. He no longer seems to resent Janet for what she represents but sees her as a real person who just so happens to have his wife's heart inside her chest. A beautiful part of the story is when Janet allows him to listen to the heart. Although it is sort of weird, I can see why it's such a poignant thing to him.

Ok. I am being really longwinded on this review. Speaking of longwinded. Let's talk about Lovely's writing. It is really heavy on exposition and not so much on dialogue. You get a lot of details that don't really seem all that necessary. I still have yet to figure out why I needed to know what they ate at dinner and all that. If you just flip through the book you can see the thick paragraphs and the lack of dialogue. It is daunting but really Lovely is able to write deftly enough that it isn't too sluggish. There are parts I began skimming simply because I just wanted to move on to the next scene.

His details, however, are beautifully written. There are some great metaphors. At some point he likens something to dolphin skin which is quite original. The way he describes people and places does not come off as overtly descriptive and mundane but seem to flow together. And he does all of this in present progressive which is really impressive. Kudos to you, Mr. Lovely!

That being said, Lovely's dialogue, when it is there, sparkles. I wanted more dialogue because it flowed so naturally and really showed the relationships more than the telling.

Now that I've filled you with all of that, go read the book. It's worth the read because of its study on human nature. I give it a 4.5 out of 5 licorice sticks.

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