When their young son dies from kidney failure, Stewart and Sharon Mackaney funnel their grief into a business--transporting donated organs for transplant patients. Sharon has put on weight and not cut her long hair since the death of her child, Matthew. The fortyish woman likes to read about vertebrate organs in a worn copy of Gray's Anatomy. She totes a red cooler on her trips crisscrossing the country. Inside of it is a precious organ--a kidney, liver, or pancreas.

Sharon spends lots of time in airplanes, hotels, and bars. Although they continue to share a house, she and her husband have been estranged since Matthew's death three years earlier. Stew suffers from irritable bowel syndrome and chronic flatulence that began at his son's funeral and has not improved a bit despite psychiatric treatment.

Stew and Sharon receive an award for their work as organ transporters. During a speech at the fundraising event, Sharon criticizes the audience for hoarding their kidneys. On returning home, she spends time in Matthew's bedroom and later has a variation of the recurrent nightmare that has plagued her since her son's death. Sharon dreams that her hair is gone, and she rises, unencumbered, until reaching the ozone layer where she is incinerated.


Which emotion is more overpowering--compassion or rage? How does one deal with blame? What antidote can be offered for emptiness? The death of a child leads to problems (physical, psychological, and marital) and purpose (a business and a calling) for the bereaved parents in this story.

This thoughtful tale is particularly relevant to discussions on organ transplantation as well as the loss of a child. The protagonist has figured out that people know very little about their own organs. Readers will agree that people know even less about the interior of their minds and bodies. With few exceptions, the mass of our internal organs is relatively slight, but their true weight turns out to be so very great.

Primary Source

The Thin Tear in the Fabric of Space


Univ. of Iowa Press

Place Published

Iowa City, Iowa



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