The Universal Donor

The Universal Donor

by Craig Nova
     
 

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"In the hands of this accomplished novelist, a love story becomes a thriller as a Los Angeles doctor tries to save a woman by tracking down the criminal psychopath who shares her rare blood type."—New York Times Book Review
Bitten by one of the snakes she is studying, Virginia Lee, an accomplished herpetologist, drives herself to the hospital, carrying a

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Overview

"In the hands of this accomplished novelist, a love story becomes a thriller as a Los Angeles doctor tries to save a woman by tracking down the criminal psychopath who shares her rare blood type."—New York Times Book Review
Bitten by one of the snakes she is studying, Virginia Lee, an accomplished herpetologist, drives herself to the hospital, carrying a decaying antidote and using her pantyhose as a tourniquet to slow the poison's path in her bloodstream. Through the hideous traffic of L.A., she must reach her lover Terry McKechnie, who works as an emergency-room physician. Her hope and faith is in him, even as it has been withdrawn from her husband, Terry's college friend. After her arrival, Virginia desperately needs transfusions of her rare blood type-and only an explosive criminal-at-large with whom Terry has already clashed can save her life. In this "absolutely bewitching" (Jonathan Harr) novel, Craig Nova brings us into the moral morass of contemporary America, gripping us with the beauty of his exacting prose and the suspense of his riveting emotional drama. "I wouldn't delay reading a novel of Nova's, not even to complete one of my own."—John Irving "Craig Nova is a fine writer, one of our best, and if you haven't read him, the loss is yours."—Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World (1997 Critic's Choice) "As skilled a piece of storytelling as Mr. Nova has yet pulled off."—Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Nova's unsteady ninth novel (after The Book of Dreams) follows the love triangle of two doctors and a scientist. Virginia Lee moves to L.A. to escape a past that saw her living a practical and routine life but all the while yearning for something more. Nearly 30, she meets Rick Bartlett, a kind and dependable but otherwise unappealing dermatologist, and decides to marry him out of convenience and practicality. Shortly before the nuptials, however, Rick introduces Virginia to his old friend, Terry McKechnie, an erstwhile ER physician, who joins them on a whale-watching jaunt. Sparks fly between Terry and Virginia and, immediately after the wedding, they begin an affair. Now Virginia is under Terry's care and near death from a bite from a poisonous snake, and Rick is ready to confront his friend. Nova's main theme is that being bad sometimes feels pretty good, and that passion often dictates the course of people's lives against their better judgment. The narrative rambles at times, however, and veers off track as Terry participates in an armed robbery in a wild bid to get some necessary blood for Virginia. Nova is a strong enough stylist to make readers wonder if his metaphors are deeper than they appear. They aren't, but he still does a convincing job of showing that while love may conquer all, the conquest isn't always pretty.
Scott Bradfield
[The book has] highly emotional conflicts without resorting to either sentimentality or cliche. -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Another fine novel by the author of, most recently, The Book of Dreams.

Dr. Terry McKechnie is working the emergency room during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, treating victims of substance abuse and gunshot wounds, when Virginia Lee, the woman he's having an affair with, checks in. She's a herpetologist and has been bitten by a rare and extremely poisonous viper, a Taipan from New Guinea. Virginia brings along the appropriate anti-venom, but one of her allergies fights against its effects, and her recovery is problematical. Worse, it becomes clear that she will need blood, but she has a rare type, so rare, in fact, that even Terry's status as a universal donor is useless. After this suspenseful and affecting opener, the novel moves backward in time, to portray the origins of Terry and Virginia's love affair. Virginia is the new wife of Terry's old friend Rick, but the two are helplessly, hopelessly drawn to each other, which they first realize soon after the wedding. Both are moral people, deeply troubled by how they're hurting Rick in a situation that's made even more complicated by Rick's agony at his wife's bedside. He suspects the affair, and he strikes out at Terry even as Terry tries doggedly to save Virginia. In a subplot, Terry's expensive foreign car has recently been stolen. From a police line-up, he identifies "Number 2" as the thief, and the suspect, out on bail, tracks Terry, threatens him, and yet also challenges him philosophically during a wild ride around Los Angeles. Turns out Number 2's blood type is the same as Virginia's, a neat though rather too convenient development. Marred by the use of coincidence and Nova's slight tendency toward melodrama. But, even so, the author's spare lyricism and philosophical manner are absorbing, original, and moving.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393318456
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
10/01/1998
Series:
Norton Paperback Fiction Series
Pages:
270
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.61(d)

What People are saying about this

Jonathan Harr
Craig Nova's new book is absolutely bewitching. It is, on the one hand, a love story, but it reads as if every sentence is fraighted with menace and mystery. Reading it is like breathing pure oxygen. I found it utterly captivating.
Ann Beattie
As always, Craig Nova as a master at making us feel as though we're eavesdropping on private, painful conversations inspiring private moments that masquerade as public performances. The Universal Donor is shocking, sad, and affecting. It's beautifully written, suprising, and suspenseful: an alarm going off made more conspicuous because it's greatly muted.

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