The Promise of Stardust: A Novel

Image of The Promise of Stardust: A Novel
Release Date: 
February 4, 2013
William Morrow Paperbacks
Reviewed by: 

“Priscille Sibley is courageous . . . both an excellent storyteller and a competent clinical writer. May this be the first of many Sibley novels.”

The Promise of Stardust is a compelling story that grips the heart and leaves the reader wondering, “What would I want; what would I do?”

A woman with everything to live for sustains a mortal injury, persisting in a vegetative state. This is now a familiar issue to hospitals and trauma centers, and futility is more easily justified as a reason for terminating life support. For two families it is an issue they must face squarely—one that requires objective appraisal and ideally, consensus. Until . . . they learn the patient, Elle Beaulieu, is pregnant.

Is it fair to let a brain-dead mother act as incubator for her unborn child? This tests the bounds of ethics and morality in the extreme. Add to this a history of Elle’s failed pregnancies—one of which was very recent—and the complications further ensnare.

Elle and her husband, Matt, a physician, wanted nothing more than a child of their own. And now a child is all that he would have of their former life; however, Matt’s mother has medical power of attorney. Why did Elle choose her instead of her own husband for this role?

Not only were these two families bonded by proximity (i.e. living next door), their lives intertwined in all kinds of ways. We soon learn, for example that Elle watched her own mother suffer in a protracted comatose state, tearing the family apart. Matt’s mother, a nurse, assisted in her care. Add to this the love story of Matt and Elle, drawn to each other from early childhood, enduring obstacles as they go their separate ways, but all the while realizing that their “friendship” is really more than that. Maybe Elle thought at some level that Matt could never “pull the plug.”

The author creates a beautiful love story from what could be a legalistic/clinical courtroom drama. Picture the awkwardness of a man defending his right as a husband being opposed by his own mother who retains medical power of attorney. Picture aggressive lawyers, each with his own axe to grind. Lastly, imagine the victim herself providing the tipping point.

The story advances by counting each day after the accident. Interspersed are flashbacks, announced in a kind of mechanical chronology (i.e. Nineteen Years Before the Accident; Day 10; Fourteen Years Before; Day 14; etc.). Each of these vignettes serves to explain a major character’s present behavior or provide the backstory that makes the contemporary scenario more understandable.

If the book has any flaw—and it is a minor one—it is the sometimes jarring juxtaposing of times, just when the reader is set to know what is going to happen next in the real time of the story. But how else, you may ask, is the reader to be enlightened about the history that influences the present reactions of the main characters. Does Elle’s mother’s agonal death keep her family members from wanting to keep Elle alive? Does the heartbreak of Elle’s failure to bring a child to term make her husband more determined to see this through? The edges might have been softened by having a character simply recall certain events, which might weave the backstory more seamlessly into the present one.

Still, only a talented writer would be able to hold the reader’s attention as the issues and complications become tangled in a no-exit maelstrom. Priscille Sibley, a neonatal intensive care nurse, deftly intertwines health, legal, and ethical issues, balancing the clinical and human aspects into a believable story. We are witness to two families torn apart, yet precipitously woven together by the same circumstances. Priscille Sibley is courageous in the way she tackles such a complicated subject, while making it readable and understandable to the average person.

She is both an excellent storyteller and a competent clinical writer. May this be the first of many Sibley novels.

Interview with Priscille Sibley, author