Cover image for Heart-side up
Heart-side up
Dimmick, Barbara, 1954-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Saint Paul, Minn. : Graywolf Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
315 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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X Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Days pass. She grows accustomed to how the saw bursts into life. She makes it roar, quiets it, by adjustments of choke and throttle. In time, she pulls the start cord with a little flourish. Like a boy in a fairy tale with an enchanted sword, she lops off deadfall with mere touches of the blade's rotating teeth, branches the size of her thumb, her wrist, her upper arm. She finds herself ankle-deep, shin-deep, knee-deep in what she has cut, discovers that a forest takes up a whole lot more room when you cut it into pieces and pile it on the ground.

Zoe is attacked in the classroom by a bright-eyed boy who gives no warning. The searing scars from the strokes of the knife are a constant reminder that she is not safe, ever. Clutching her bottle of anti-anxiety pills, she goes to the mountains of Vermont to find Dayton, the man she lost to God years before.

Dayton is living in a controversial monastery, so isolated and extreme that the Catholic Church does not acknowledge it. Impulsively, Zoe buys a half-finished house with no running water, no heat. The only town for miles is Shroveton, whose inhabitants are immediately suspicious of Zoe's arrival and place bets as to whether or not she will last the winter. But it is here, through the back-breaking labor of felling trees, fetching water, and keeping warm-- with the help of a dog named Gus-- that Zoe is able to be near Dayton, but at a safe distance.

Strange signs of resentment and anger, however, creep into her new life. Someone leaves a gutted doe on her property, hacks off her dog's tail, and haunts her dreams. Ultimately, Zoe is forced to confront her deepest fears: bodily danger and the truth about Dayton.

In Heart-Side Up, Barbara Dimmick delves into the darkness of fear, love, and trust, and shows that prayer can be the rhythm of hard work and salvation, simply the process of surviving.

Author Notes

Barbara Dimmick is the author of the novel, In the Presence of Horses . At various times a horse trainer, homesteader, and college professor, she now lives and writes in northern New England.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

When Zoe, a teacher who works with problem children, is violently attacked by one of her students, she falls into a deep depression. Unable to find relief in therapy or Xanax, she impulsively moves to a small Vermont mountain town and seeks out her first love, Dayton, who, having abandoned her years ago to become a Catholic monk, is now a member of a controversial order. As Zoe adapts to her new life in a cabin without electricity and running water, she befriends Spark, the local constable, and adopts Gus, a dog who becomes her closest companion. She discovers that learning to live in less-cultivated surroundings accomplishes what therapy cannot, and she becomes more self-possessed and independent as a year passes. Dimmick's prose is straightforward, evasive of melodrama and sentimentality, sometimes witty, and sometimes profound. Zoe's struggle to overcome her fears reflects a process virtually all of us go through, regardless of what problems we encounter, and her stubborn tenacity in the face of overwhelming circumstances is inspiring. --Bonnie Johnston

Publisher's Weekly Review

Attacked in her Rhode Island classroom by a knife-wielding student, Zoe Muir finds her psychological wounds are harder to heal than the cuts on her body. At the start of this bittersweet novel of recovery, Zoe's young psychiatrist, Zeke Polushka, helps her with Xanax and good-natured humor, though her dependence on the former erases any appreciation for the latter. In the course of one of their sessions, Zeke suggests that the pain and suffering inflicted by the slasher opened up wounds caused by the loss of her first love, Dayton Reed, so she tracks down Dayton, who has joined a small and idiosyncratic monastery in rural Vermont. Eager to escape her increasingly claustrophobic life, Zoe uses her settlement money to buy a cottage near Dayton's retreat, with no electricity or running water, on a huge plot of land. The locals treat her with a mixture of distrust, disdain and outright disgust. Only politician Hal Westerbrook and constable Spark Everett show genuine interest in Zoe, though their motives are unclear. Zoe begins working through her rocky past and finds her spirits lifted when Spark gives her a dog to keep her company. But when strange and scary things begin happening to Zoe once more, she questions whether she can ever trust anyone again. Dimmick (In the Presence of Horses) whips up a storm of paranoia and suspicionmostly in the head of the tormented heroineas her novel proceeds to a teasing conclusion. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Like a ripped-from-the-headlines episode of TV's Law and Order, this second novel from Dimmick (following In the Presence of Horses) describes the aftermath of a horrendous physical attack at a Rhode Island school. In this particular incident, a knife-wielding student has disfigured teacher Zoe Muir. Unable to return to business-as-usual, she moves to northern Vermont, buys an unfinished house in the woods, and attempts to reconstruct her life. She develops a comforting routine by chopping firewood, hiking, tending her dog, cleaning the outhouse, and building walls. Yet something is amiss in Zoe's remote paradise. Local residents, she discovers, are resentful of financially stable outsiders like her who are changing the tenor of their New England community. What's more, the emotional security Zoe imagined finding in her new environs is fleeting. Heart-Side Up looks at the nature of friendship and explores questions of religious faith, piety, identity, sexuality, and trust. Wonderfully engrossing and haunting, it is a timely look at violence, pathology, and the intersection of survival and redemption. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. Eleanor J. Bader, Brooklyn, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Barbara Dimmick comes as close to precision as one can in a field that doesn't allow it: love
Zoe, of Heart-Side Up, faces her challenges with grace, fear, and a good dog
It was a pleasure and honor to stand by her side for the length of the bookJoe Coomer
Praise for In the Presence of Horses
All the traditional lingo and lore tucked into Barbara Dimmick's first novel is evidence of her inspired pursuit of her favorite animal, the horse
The New York Times Book Review Dimmick will keep rea