“The Possible World” by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz – Book Review

“An astonishing, deeply moving novel about the converging lives of a young boy who witnesses a brutal crime, the doctor who tends to him, and a woman guarding her long-buried past.”Heart-breaking, heart-warming, and compelling literary fiction. This book is a must read!


The characters in this novel were unforgettable and I miss them already.

First we meet Ben. He is a trepidatious boy who is small for his age. While attending a birthday party for one of his friends, Ben’s world will come crashing down as he experiences a horrific trauma.

“We’re all of us obsessed with our own story.
Especially those of us near the end of it.”

Next we meet Clare. A resident of a nursing home, Clare is nearing her one hundredth birthday. Astoundingly, her mind is sharp as a tack. Sadly, she is quite alone in the world and never has any visitors.  We come to know Clare better as she relates her ‘story’ to Gloria, another nursing home resident, which she tapes.  Her long life is fascinating.  She was the Catholic daughter of a bookshop owner in Providence. When the Great Depression hit her family suffered many financial setbacks along with the rest of the country. She worked in a weaving mill where she eventually met her husband. Yes, although her adult years were mostly solitary, she was once married, and the mother to a baby son.  This all ended during the hurricane which struck Providence, Rhode Island in 1938.

After experiencing devastating loss, she begins her life again as Clare.  Self-sufficient and hard-working, she lives in the stone caretaker’s cottage situated on a hill bordering on a cemetery.  Next door is a sort of ‘reform school’ for boys which is run by monks. She works endlessly tending the graves, working her garden, and preserving for the coming winter.

Clare makes the acquaintance of one of the boys from the school. She arranges with the monks that he come to her every afternoon to help with her arduous work.  He is a scrawny and unloved boy of eleven. His name is Leo. The woman and the boy will come to love each other.


“You have to love medicine – it won’t love you back.”

Then we meet Dr. Lucy Cole. An ER physician working in the last year of her residency, she is devoted to her career. She has seen it all, and still strives to do her very best for her patients.  Her marriage has recently ended. Her husband Joe, unable to cope with her demanding hours cannot find the will to continue their relationship.  Although Lucy loves him dearly, she has not yet mastered the illusive work/life balance.

Lucy meets Ben in the ER when he is brought in after the horrific crime he has witnessed. Though he is covered in blood, she discerns that he is not physically injured – yet he seems to have no memory of his former life, or of his mother who worked at the hospital.  He says his name is Leo – and his memories of Leo’s life do not correspond with those of Ben. Child  psycholigists believe that five-year old Ben has disassociative disorder because he claims to be an eleven-year old boy named Leo.

“If nobody knows your name after you die, is it like you never were born at all?”

“It’s our secrets that make each of us different from everyone else.
Our secrets, and what we choose to love.”

“We have things for a while, and then they’re gone,
and we’re lucky to have had them at all.”

As the characters’ stories converge, your heart will be broken – and then made whole.

The medical scenes in the novel are written realistically and with compassion as befitting an expert in the field.

The eloquence of the writing throughout the novel ensures that I will follow this author’s work avidly.

This novel is at once compelling historical fiction, a testament to love, a treatise on belief and doubt, a story of loneliness and loss, and a foray into reincarnation. Powerful, amazing, literary fiction. Highly recommended.  All the STARS!

I received a digital copy of this amazing novel from Scribner via Edelweiss. All I can say to them is Thank-you, Thank-you, Thank-you…Liese O’Halloran Schwarz grew up in Washington, DC after an early childhood overseas. She attended Harvard University and then medical school at University of Virginia. While in medical school, she won the Henfield/Transatlantic Review Prize and also published her first novel, Near Canaan.

She specialized in emergency medicine and like most doctors, she can thoroughly ruin dinner parties with tales of medical believe-it-or-not. But she won’t do that, because she knows how hard you worked to make a nice meal.

The Possible World, coming from Scribner (US) and Hutchinson (Random House UK/Cornerstone) in June 2018, is her second novel.

She currently lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and is at work on the next book.

About Fictionophile

Fiction reviewer ; Goodreads librarian. Retired library cataloger - more time to read! Loves books, gardening, and red wine. I have been a reviewer member of NetGalley since October 2013. I review titles offered by Edelweiss, and participate in blog tours with TLC Book Tours.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Edelweiss, Favorite books, Historical fiction, Love stories and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to “The Possible World” by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz – Book Review

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  5. Kim Rogers says:

    Fantastic review! I feel like as a ER nurse I would especially like this. I have never heard of this one before. I just added it to my want to read list on Goodreads! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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  10. skyecaitlin says:

    A great review, and how lovely you truly liked this one!


  11. I am reading this now, and this is definitely going to be a favorite for me too. You’ve written a lovely review of a most mesmerizing book, Lynne! I need to get back to reading now! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Christine says:

    Wow, I cut this book from my list ealier this week. Putting it back on the list after this stellar review, Lynne!

    Liked by 2 people

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