Eros and Thanatos in Boston.
Merullo (In Revere, In Those Days, 2002, etc.) risks the mawkish in this readable tale. Having just spent a celibate year mourning the death of his girlfriend Giselle, Jake Entwhistle emerges for a donut, only to meet and fall for Janet Rossi, a woman dying of cystic fibrosis. Jake is the new man incarnate—both carpenter and artist, given to goofy jokes and the occasional fistfight in defense of maidens in distress. Giselle, it turns out, died on 9/11, aboard Flight 93, when it crashed in Pennsylvania. Janet, who was having an affair with her boss, Charles Valvelsais, the shady but recently reelected governor of Massachusetts, may not survive the year it will take for her to find a lung transplant donor. The lovers do snatch some moments of happiness together, but Merullo spends more time charting Janet’s illness than he does the happiness. A visit to Jake’s brother, a Catholic monk, brings up the subject of belief. Jake speculates on an indifferent God, “a mean-hearted trickster” who permits the suffering endured by the diseased, the terrorized and their families. Some spleen is also directed at the medical establishment in the guise of various reptilian doctors whose treatment of Janet verges on the callous or self-interested. It falls to Jake to discover that she might be saved by a living lobar transplant. But his labors are far from over. He must twist the arm of the one local (retired, reluctant) surgeon who could perform the operation and then find two suitable tissue donors. Jake himself will be one and, at Janet’s urging, Valvelsais—who turns the challenge into a p.r. opportunity—the other. It would take a heart of stone not to be moved by Janet’s endurance. But it would take the hide of a rhino not to feel massaged into emotional compliance by the story’s heavily stacked odds of circumstance and character.
An intelligent tear-jerker.