Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus Review

December 15, 2022

In this posthumously published essay collection, Talve-Goodman (1986-2018) openly shares the history of her body. Born with a congenital heart condition, she chronicles her medical experiences ranging from an 11-hour marathon back surgery that untethered her spinal cord to the implantation of her new heart in 2006 when she was 19. A collaborative effort “made out of love and grief,” the text, edited by the author’s sister and novelist Tinti, mixes creative nonfiction, memoir, and critical theory. In the opening essay, the author recalls a night as a 20-year-old college student when she exposed her chest to a boyfriend and admitted to having had a heart transplant just one year prior. In another impassioned story, she recounts a memorable trip to San Diego with a group of other teens with organ transplants, noting the solidarity of people with “displaced” kidneys, livers, and hearts and how the identities of their donors can become a vexing mystery. Talve-Goodman candidly reflects on her own physical self-consciousness, graphically describing squirmy biopsy procedures. After a two-year wait for a new heart and countless surgeries, she admits, “I wasn’t good at much, but I was good at waiting.” The daughter of two rabbis, the author’s pride in her Jewish heritage infuses many essays, most of which read like nimble coming-of-age diary entries. Other pieces find her trying to harmonize with the “dead person’s heart” beating rapidly in her chest (a transplant typically takes a year to “thaw and reach its capacity”) or offering panicked discourse on organ donors and their correlation to “zombies.” While crafting her essays, Talve-Goodman became unexpectedly ill and succumbed to lymphoma in 2018 at age 31. Never maudlin or overly sympathetic, the book shows how she transformed her physical limitations into an outward source of strength, and her vividly drawn essays effectively enlighten and educate.

Heartfelt and richly passionate impressions from a creative writer gone too soon.