Set for Life

You can imagine the newspaper item that must have inspired this novel: ”Dying Man Gets Last-Minute Heart Transplant — From His Grandson!” By now, we’re used to stories spun out of tabloid headlines, so it’s to Freeman’s credit that she has written such an extraordinarily moving book from the weird material here. In Set for Life, Phil is an ailing Idaho widower who gets a transplant and second lease on life when his grandson is killed in a car wreck. Louise is an addled, pregnant 16-year-old on the run from her mother and her neo-Nazi stepfather. Phil and Louise should never meet, but they do. It’s a buddy-movie conceit, of course, and much of the pleasure of Freeman’s novel comes from watching the two of them forge an odd friendship and beat back the nosy, insinuating world. Freeman does not shy away from painful material — Louise’s attempts to have an abortion without her parents’ consent, for instance — but she also writes plainly about love and about our obligations to one another. ”It seemed to her there were only two kinds of people in the world,” the author says of Louise early on, ”bullies and their victims.” Freeman’s book is an homage to two people who are neither. A

Set for Life
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