A Match to the Heart

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Gretel Ehrlich was walking on her Wyoming ranch one August afternoon as a storm approached. When her beloved dogs were frightened by a thunderclap, she rubbed their ears and told them the storm was harmless. Hours later, Ehrlich woke alone in a pool of blood. She could not move her legs or right arm, and she had trouble seeing, talking, and breathing. With no memory of what had happened, Ehrlich wondered if she had been shot in the back or had a heart attack. Then, thunder crashed overhead, and she knew she had been hit by lightning.

A MATCH TO THE HEART investigates the space between living and dying as Ehrlich recounts her travels—literal and metaphorical—in the two years after her heart stopped and was revived. Ehrlich is a naturalist, with deep sensibility and a finely honed eye for detail. In this memoir, she turns such talents back upon herself. Even while slipping toward death in a hospital, Ehrlich is observing. “How odd,” she muses, “that we walk around with these bodies, live in them, die in them, make love with them, yet know almost nothing of their intimate workings.”

Although Ehrlich informs about her physical trauma and recovery, it is the emotional, psychological, and spiritual consequences that are most illuminating. A MATCH TO THE HEART is her investigation into the gap that opens inside when electricity strikes the body and wipes the heart and mind clean. Woven into Ehrlich’s personal narrative are references to various spiritual traditions, such as Chumash Indian legends about the gateway to the afterlife and Buddhist instructions about how to correctly prepare for death. Ehrlich also includes reports from other people who have been struck by lightning, as well as information about the phenomenon of lightning itself. Ultimately, however, this is an intimate book. Ehrlich allows readers access to her private thoughts, as she tries to make sense of the person she has become, and to her eventual conclusion that familiarity with death empowers love of the life humans live.