Footprints

Shelby Hearon, Author
Shelby Hearon, Author Alfred A. Knopf $21 (0p) ISBN 978-0-679-44641-5
Hardcover - 312 pages - 978-0-7862-0854-8
Hardcover - 978-0-517-17407-4
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A marriage under poignant stress is the focus of Hearon's intelligent and perceptive 15th novel (after Life Estates). The accidental death of their 22-year-old daughter, Bethany, and the transplanting of her heart to a Texas preacher has created simmering tension between Nan and Douglas Mayhall. A research scientist specializing in the brain, Douglas reacts with sheer emotion: he thinks Bethany still lives in the preacher's body. Nan, on the other hand, evinces a more ""scientific'' response; determined to come to terms with Bethany's death, she also confronts the resentments of a lifetime, especially the societal expectations that forced her to forego a Ph.D in paleontology to raise Bethany and a son, Bert, now a marine physiologist and diver. The prickly relationship between Douglas and Bert, and Douglas's need to replace Bethany with a new baby (via an affair with an English professor at the college where he teaches) further complicate the Mayhalls' difficulty in coming to terms with their loss. Hearon measures the delicate pulse of marital relationships--the mutually understood limits and excesses each demands of or allows the other--while eventually illuminating the fundamental secrets that even long-wed spouses keep deeply buried. Though her touch is light, she is not afraid to expose readers to such details as the components of paleontological exploration or a step by step description of a heart transplant, each expressed in clear prose. Settings of an upstate New York college town, a Texas ranch and Florida's Sanibel Island are rendered with graceful particulars, and the dialogue is pitch-perfect. It all adds up to a thoughtful, compassionate exploration of the constant adjustments that marriage demands, and of the needs of women to find identities outside of the marital bond. (Mar.)
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