LIFELINE: How One Night Changed Five Lives by Mary Zimmeth Schomaker. (New Horizon Press: $22.95; 320 pp.) True-life accounts of harrowing events ultimately need to be evaluated using some of the same criteria one might employ for fiction. (Is this a story that really needs to be told? Or perhaps more importantly, is this a story we want to read?) "Lifeline," Mary Zimmeth Schomaker's narrative of how one man's death saved the lives of four people through organ donation, is obviously a meaningful story, but it lacks some of the much-needed elements--surprise, strong characterization or ongoing conflict--that make a book truly engaging.
When Donald Mills, a brilliant, reclusive man, is killed in a bicycle accident, his 95-year-old aunt, after some soul-searching, decides to allow his organs to be donated. The individual circumstances of the four organ recipients, along with an explanation of methods employed for choosing those particular people, make up the bulk of "Lifeline."
This sort of book has built-in problems. Since we know exactly how it will end, a story like "Lifeline" becomes unusually reliant on the strength of its writing to be effective, and Schomaker's characters are, with a few exceptions, generic and flat. Her dialogue is stilted: "He was partial to kitchen utensils and small appliances, which he . . . sent as wedding gifts for his dwindling list of friends and relatives."
Although "Lifeline" is certainly educational, it is important to remember that just because something happened doesn't mean there's a book in it.