Christian-fiction writer Martin (The Dead Don’t Dance, not reviewed) chronicles the personal tragedy of a Georgia heart surgeon.
Five years ago in Atlanta, Reese could not save his beloved wife Emma from heart failure, even though the Harvard-trained surgeon became a physician so that he could find a way to fix his childhood sweetheart’s congenitally faulty ticker. He renounced practicing medicine after her death and now lives in quiet anonymity as a boat mechanic on Lake Burton. Across the lake is Emma’s brother Charlie, who was rendered blind on the same desperate night that Reese fought to revive his wife on their kitchen floor. When Reese helps save the life of a seven-year-old local girl named Annie, who turns out to have irreparable heart damage, he is compassionately drawn into her case. He also grows close to Annie’s attractive Aunt Cindy and gradually comes to recognize that the family needs his expertise as a transplant surgeon. Martin displays some impressive knowledge about medical practice and the workings of the heart, but his Christian message is not exactly subtle. “If anything in this universe reflects the fingerprint of God, it is the human heart,” Reese notes of his medical studies. Emma’s letters (kept in a bank vault) quote Bible verse; Charlie elucidates stories of Jesus’ miracles for young Annie; even the napkins at the local bar, The Well, carry passages from the Gospel of John for the benefit of the biker clientele. Moreover, Martin relentlessly hammers home his sentimentality with nature-specific metaphors involving mating cardinals and crying crickets. (Annie sells crickets as well as lemonade to raise money for her heart surgery.) Reese’s habitual muttering of worldly slogans from Milton and Shakespeare (“I am ashes where once I was fire”) doesn’t much cut the cloying piety, and an over-the-top surgical save leaves the reader feeling positively bruised.
Deep schmaltz in the Bible Belt.