Tom Fogarty is a sixteen-year-old boy who is introduced to both love and death in 1934. The object of his affection is Lily, the 14-year-old niece of a neighbor who lives across the street from Tom. Lily has tuberculosis and is waiting for a bed at the sanitarium where her parents are already being treated for the same disease. The relationship between the two adolescents is risky, passionate, forbidden, and ultimately transforming. Their romance is abruptly interrupted by Lily's death.

Tom's overwhelming grief over the loss of Lily coincides with torrential rain that cleans and nearly submerges the town of Troy, New York. Tom is further wounded when he fractures his clavicle during the flooding. His physician-father, a general practitioner, repairs Tom's injured collarbone but only time can mend the boy's broken heart.


Tom and Lily is one of Richard Selzer's finest stories. Its depiction of adolescence, innocence, love, and loss is remarkably poignant. The process of growing-up is accurately portrayed as chaotic--alluring, delicious, educational, dangerous, and painful. There are obvious autobiographical elements in the story including the setting (Troy, New York) and some characters (for example, Tom's father who is a general practitioner).

The culture of tuberculosis and the prescribed etiquette in dealing with the disease are nicely captured by the language used in the story. Thoracoplasty, positive sputum, miliary, pneumo, cavity, sanitarium, and consumption are words as firmly entrenched in this tale as the Mycobacterium tuberculosis organism is in poor Lily's lungs. Selzer's story highlights an important connection (love and grief) along with a tantalizing contradiction (chance versus fate). By the conclusion of "Tom and Lily," readers are left wondering about the notion of love. Is love a contagion or a miracle? Maybe it's both.

Primary Source

Taking the World in for Repairs


William Morrow

Place Published

New York



Page Count