SET FOR LIFE by Judith Freeman


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 As it did in her first novel (The Chinchilla Farm, 1989), the power of love works again for Freeman's leads, an old man and a teenager, both at odds with their families. Phil Doucet will die unless he gets a new heart; Louise Matthews feels she will die if she spends another minute under her stepfather Ted's roof. The carpenter and the schoolgirl live in the same corner of Idaho, and their paths will cross at the novel's midpoint. Since cancer took his beloved wife, Phil has been deteriorating, in body and soul; his chief support has been his grandson Luke. Then Luke is killed in a car crash, and Phil is persuaded to accept Luke's ``perfect'' heart. The transplant works like a dream, and Phil's doctor glibly asserts he's ``set for life''; but despite feeling years younger, Phil is plagued by guilt and shuts himself away from his two married daughters. As for Louise, stepfather Ted has made her life a living hell, forcing her to join his neo-Nazi cult; terrified he will discover she's pregnant (by a traveling salesman), she hits the road. A sympathetic truck driver pays for her abortion, but she is too fragile and unformed to handle a relationship, and in fleeing Wendall she begs for shelter from a picnicking stranger: Phil. He hears his grandson's voice urging him to take Louise in. She proves a difficult houseguest (``as mutable as the lake'') and at the end, with the sheriff down below, is ready to leap to her death; but Phil convinces his now precious waif that his love will be a bulwark for her. Cloying? Corny? Not in the least. Freeman has built toward the climax so carefully that its great surge of emotion seems the most natural thing on earth; once again, her unsentimental celebration of simple goodness marks her as a writer to be treasured.

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1991
ISBN: 0-393-03027-X
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1991


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