Heart-Side Up

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Heart-Side Up, Barbara Dimmick’s second novel, follows Zoe, the director of the learning services at a Rhode Island college, as she recuperates from an attack by a student who slashed her arms, neck, and chest with a razor. Perhaps hoping for comfort, she searches for Dayton, her former lover, and discovers that he is a monk in a renegade monastery in Vermont. She drives there not to meet him but to be near him. Part of the healing she must do is to accept the end of the relationship. They were headed for marriage, but differing religious views separated them over eight years ago.

With part of the settlement money she received from the attacker’s wealthy family, she impulsively buys a house and almost five hundred acres of land near the monastery. The house is a shell, unfinished, with no running water and no electricity. She chops wood for her heat, she goes for long walks with Gus, a newly acquired dog, and she finds solace in the natural world. But her problems do not disappear. Someone, perhaps a hostile neighbor or perhaps her student attacker, is harassing her.

For almost two years she lives in the vicinity of the monastery but does not encounter Dayton. And when they do finally meet, the outcome is ambiguous. His God is very real to him and controls his daily life; her beliefs are not so clearly defined. She finds comfort in the birch trees and mountains. But the reader senses that Zoe is now strong like the wood that is placed heart-side up to withstand the weather.

Everything is right about Heart-Side Up. The novel will resonate with those who have been traumatized, those who are trying to define their religious beliefs, lovers of nature, teachers, and especially dog owners.