Personal tragedy becomes an ethical and legal quandary in Sibley’s debut literary fiction.
Dr. Matt Beaulieu is a Maine neurosurgeon. His college professor wife, Elle McClure, was once a hero astronaut. Matt and Elle grew up as neighbors, their two families intertwined into one. Now, they are best friends and blissfully in love, their marriage marred only by repeated miscarriages. One summer morning, Matt is off to work and Elle is off to help her acrophobic brother clean windows. She falls from a ladder and strikes her head. Emergency surgery reveals “subarachnoid bleeding and shearing.” But then during a trauma work-up to declare brain death, which would allow the devastated Matt to cease extraordinary care, Elle is discovered to be pregnant. Realizing a piece of Elle might live on, Matt enters a legal whirlwind. It seems Matt’s mother, Linney, holds Elle’s advanced care directive. As a teen, Elle had signed the directive after her own mother died slowly and painfully from cancer. Linney, an obstetrical nurse, wants to follow Elle’s directive to the letter. “It's just wrong to keep her in this state, as an incubator for something that isn’t even a baby yet.” Enter Jake Sutter, attorney, Matt’s college roommate, and incidentally, a pro-life advocate. The media circus begins, growing even more twisted when another advanced care directive is brought forth by Dr. Adam Cunningham, a NASA scientist with whom Elle had lived when she and Matt were estranged. While the novel is a fictionalized Schiavo-like intrafamily moral war, Sibley ups the ethical stakes by interweaving pregnancy with end-of-life issues. Characters are well-drawn, although the arrogant vindictiveness of Cunningham may be overblown. While she does take the easy way out regarding the end-of-life question, Sibley translates medical and legal issues solidly, bringing both emotion and reason into an examination of our collective failure to agree upon when life begins and ends.
A literate and incandescent Nicholas Sparks-like love story complicated by intense moral and ethical questions.