Forming Connections: Reflecting on Suzanne Rivecca’s “Homeostasis”

Like the narrator in Suzanne Rivecca’s short story “Homeostasis,” I have always been fascinated by organ donation. Reader, I hope this does not come across as crass or strange. I do not mean that I have fantasized about cutting organs out of bodies (in fact, the unit in my middle school biology class where we had to dissect dead worms and fish made me sick). When I say that I am fascinated by organ donation, I mean that I think it is incredible that we can cut parts of ourselves out and give them to other people, that someday my heart or my liver or my kidney or my lungs could be living inside someone else’s body. I am an organ donor, after all. There is a bright red heart in the corner of my driver’s license to prove it. What I find so interesting about organ donation, I think, is the connection it forms between bodies. “Homeostasis” is a story about many things, but at its core, the narrative revolves around formed and failed connections.

“Homeostasis” was published in Artful Dodge 46/47 as part of the AWP Writing Awards, a program that selects the best poetry and fiction from undergraduate and graduate writing programs. The story follows Andrew, a widowed father who struggles to connect with his teenage daughter and keep his job working in a scientific research lab, where he experiments on toads. His fascination with kidneys and organ transplants stems from his research in the lab and is also a touchstone in his complex relationship with his daughter, Samantha. Throughout the course of the story, Samantha is repeatedly getting in trouble at school, and Andrew finds himself unable to connect with and understand her. Samantha is in love with the past, repeatedly wearing her father’s old clothing, crying over pictures of her mother, and writing scathing columns in the school newspaper about her generation’s taste in music. What I found most touching and interesting about this story was the focus on the characters’ relationships with each other.

Through simple, first person prose, Rivecca drew me into Andrew’s private world of research, anguish, and love. One scene in particular that stood out to me was when Andrew discovers blood in the toilet and panics, thinking that his daughter is severely ill when she is simply menstruating. He finds the whole event quite troubling: “All that evening it disturbed me, how the shedding of so much blood was a routine thing for my daughter, and what kind of thickness did she have to grow around her, what kind of tough elephant rind and callousness, to accept with perfect casualness a bowl brimming with red blood?” Not only do I love the image and the alliteration of “a bowl brimming with red blood,” but I think this scene in particular highlights the heart of the narrative: Andrew’s desperate confusion about his daughter’s identity and his desire to understand her.

Our relationships that we have with our parents can be complicated, and “Homeostasis” captures that confusion and complexity well. The connections that we form with other people, whether they be the physical transfer of organs or the emotional bond of paternal love, are what drive our lives in new and interesting directions. “Homeostasis” was a heart-wrenching, fascinating piece that made me consider a very important fact—that the connections we form with others define our lives.

—Megan Murphy, Assistant Editor

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