Saturday, June 24, 2006


My friend Brian Doyle is surely one of the best writers around. Well, I gush, but no kidding, sometimes he puts so much of his own irrepressible exhilaration into words it takes one's breath away. Confider this paragraph from his little book The Wet Engine: Exploring the Mad Wild Miracle of the Heart:
Let us contemplate, you and I, the bloody electric muscle. Let us consider it from every angle. Let us remove it from its bony cage, its gristly case, and hold it to the merciless light, and turn it glinting this way and that, and look at it as if we had never seen it before, because we never have seen it before, not like this. Let us think carefully about the throb of its relentless tissue. Let us ponder it as the wet engine from which comes all the music we know. Let us contemplate the thousand ways it fails and the few ways it does not fail. Let us gawk at the brooding genius of its architecture. Let us consider it as the most crucial and amazing house, with its four rooms and meticulous plumbing and protein walls and chambered music. Let us dream of blood and pulse and ebb and flow. Let us consider the tide and beat and throb and hum. Let us unweave the web of artery and vein, the fluttering jetties of the valves, the coursing of ions from cell to cell, the sodium that is your soul, the potassium that is your personality, the calcium that is your character.
Brian had cause enough to spelunk the wet red cave of the heart. His son was born with a heart defect, and Brian tells that story in the book. Oh, he gives us the facts: The heart weighs eleven ounces; it feeds a vascular system that comprises sixty thousands miles of pipes; it beats a thousand times a day, shoving two thousand gallons of blood through the body. Yep, the science is all there. But for Brian the science is the scaffolding of life, the armature on which he hangs one hellava lot of poetry, one hellava lot of love. If you know anyone who has reason to care about what goes right and what might go wrong with the bloody muscle that thumps away in our chests, The Wet Engine would be a lovely gift.