THE WET ENGINE: Exploring the Mad Wild Miracle of the Heart
Brian Doyle
Paraclete Press, 192 pp., $17.95

Awe in Print

Our heartbeat is something we take for granted—until it quits, or skips a few thumps. Failed hearts kill more women and men in America than the next seven causes of death combined. With these statistics in mind, we may find ourselves as [University of] Portland magazine editor Brian Doyle did, searching for details and deeper meanings surrounding this "bloody electric muscle."

When Liam, one of Doyle's twin sons, was born missing a chamber in his heart, it sent Doyle on a quest to understand this mysterious organ and those who work to repair it. He creates a chain of stories that are by turns personal memoir, autobiography, tribute, lecture, history, poetry, and even, improbably, a call for social justice. Stories matter, Doyle believes, and "all stories are, in some form, prayers."

Doyle's narrative introduces fascinating factual, historical, and spiritual ideas about the heart. Imagine, Doyle tells us, God incarnate with a human heart! We wrestle with our hearts all the time, Doyle writes. "We are verbs. What we want to be is never what we are. Not yet. Maybe that's why we have these relentless engines in our chests, driving us forward toward what we might be."

Wonder, awe, and amazement are on every page.

Anne Bartlett
Houghton-Mifflin, 224 pp., $23

Frayed Souls Back Together

In her debut novel, Australian author Anne Bartlett, who has written extensively on the Aborigines and related issues (The Chairman), has penned a quiet, literary book exploring grace, loss, suffering, community, and forgiveness. She develops these themes through the lives of two very different women, Sandra ...

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