The Spirit of the Place

The Spirit of the Place

by Samuel Shem

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Overview

From the bestselling author of the The House of God comes an ambitious novel about the complicated relationships between mothers and sons, doctors and patients, the past and the present, and love and death... 

Settled into a relationship with an Italian yoga instructor and working in Europe, Dr. Orville Rose's peace is shaken by his mother's death. On his return to Columbia, a Hudson River town of quirky people and “plagued by breakage,” he learns that his mother has willed him a large sum of money, her 1981 Chrysler, and her Victorian house in the center of town. There's one odd catch: he must live in her house for one year and thirteen days. As he struggles with his decision—to stay and meet the terms of the will or return to his life in Italy—Orville reconnects with family, reunites with former friends, and comes to terms with old rivals and bitter memories. In the process he’ll discover his own history, as well as his mother’s, and finally learn what it really means to be a healer, and to be healed.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101617021
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/04/2012
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 272,974
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Samuel Shem is a novelist, playwright, and, for three decades, a member of the Harvard Medical School faculty. His novels include The House of God, Mount Misery, and Fine. He is coauthor with his wife, Janet Surrey, of the hit Off-Broadway play Bill W. and Dr. Bob, the story of the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous (winner of the 2007 Performing Arts Award of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence), and We Have to Talk: Healing Dialogues Between Men and Women.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Samuel Shem captured the humor, the angst and pathos of medical training in that unforgettable book, The House of God. His new book is an incredible and heartfelt story of a physician whose life has taken the most unexpected twists and turns. The Spirit of the Place entertains, satisfies, and affirms; it is beautifully conceived and brilliantly executed. Shem has done it again!"—Abraham Verghese, M.D., author of Counting for Stone

"A deeply moving and profounding intelligent exploration of the complexities and rewards of family, profession and place. The story of a young physician returning to his small town becomes a tale with universal meaning. This book continues to resonate in the mind and heart long after it is read." —Jerome Groopman, M.D., author of How Doctors Think

"In this lovely novel, Samuel Shem brilliantly describes scenery from the Italian Lakes to the Hudson River Valley with vivid enchanting detail. But his real subject is the landscape of the human heart with its dangers and delights, its vertiginous cliffs and mossy woods, its comforts and contradictions. This is a wonderful book about the surprises of human connection and the infinite power of love." —Susan Cheever
"The Spirit of the Place is written with a large heart, a healing touch, wry and wise insight into the human condition. Worthy of the best of Samuel Shem, which is worthy indeed."—James Carrol

"[A] grand, wonderfully insightful story of love and death, mothers and sons, doctors and patients—filled with larger than life characters and told with outrageous Shem-humor and authentic humanity." —Michael Palmer, author of The First Patient

Customer Reviews

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The Spirit of the Place 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Wolson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is story about a man named Orville his entire life has been spent running away from Columbia and his mother. Now after finding out about her death and returning to Columbia he is forced to make a life changing decision to either stay for an entire year and thirteen days per his mothers will or leave.This book some getting into the first two sections of the book were ok but I struggled to grasp the characters it wasn't until the wrapping up in the final section that I felt I couldn't put the book down. Overall I think its a worthwhile read with some of the moments in the book very predictable but also some that come out of no where.
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The further I got into this book, the more I liked it. I think of the author as a kindler, gentler version of Philip Roth. His protagonist is fighting the psychological effects of a tormenting Jewish mother and he's struggling with his identity and with his relationships with the opposite sex; yet, unlike Roth, Shem does not devolve into the intrusive, the offensive, or the off-putting downright dirtiness of Roth at any point. His prose is more down-to-earth than Roth's, but I feel this contributes more to a sense of warmth in the story.The protagonist, Orville Rose, is a 39-yr-old doctor who returns to his hometown of Columbia, New York after his mother has died and made Orville's residence in the town (for a year and thirteen days) a condition of his inheritance. Leaving a fling in Italy with the New-Agey Celestina Polo, he comes back and takes over the medical practice of his old mentor, Dr. Bill Starbuck. He renews his relationship with his niece Amy (to whom he has always been close), and begins a new relationship with the local historian, Miranda Braak (who has a six-year-old son, Cray).Miranda is physically crippled ¿ a victim of polio ¿ but Orville and other residents we meet in Columbia are just as broken in non-visible ways. Their journey towards healing is the journey of this book.When Orville was six, he made the discovery that he was ¿part of something else,¿ something bigger than he. His mother, Selma, put him down: ¿Orville-doll, there¿s nothing else but this.¿ Selma had been a child prodigy, but the cruelty of the times, and of a disfiguring stroke, had sentenced her to a dull life of non-achievement in Columbia. She took out her disappointment and anger on her son, even after her death, via letters she had scheduled to be mailed to him. It takes Orville the full year and thirteen days, and more, to come back to that place of awe and connection he had found when he was six.Sure, the author inserts some jokes and stories from the internet that he probably should have omitted, but when he keeps to his own spirit, his prose can fly, and take the reader along with it. I found much to relate to in this book: the way sometimes Orville doesn't even understand his own behavior, much less that of others; the way he occasionally feels used and abused as a doctor; the way lovers can keep going along a destructive road they can¿t get off even if they want to; the awkward spasms of love, hate, and resentment in step-families; the beauty of New England. It¿s all here, and it¿s mostly all good. I enjoyed the book, and would seek out other works by the author.
readingrat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Orville Rose has spent his whole life running away from the people and places that make him feel uncomfortable. Now his mother is dead and as a condition of her will she wants him to stay - for a year and 13 days in his childhood home. The Spirit of the Place follows Orville through the ups and downs of those 378 days as he tries to find a place for himself in the town where he grew up.
chellerystick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the dramatic comedy of a 39-year-old doctor who is called back home when his mother dies and finds himself grappling with love and change back in his childhood town.The book is well-constructed, with bookends and echoes across sections. Despite the fact that we see things through Orville's eyes, the people we see are not flat caricatures but rather conflicted, loving, angry realistic people. I really felt involved with them and their dilemmas, their hopes to improve their lives and their frustrations with the inertia of the town.I think it is worth noting that the book takes place just up the Hudson from the works of Washington Irving, who parodied, mythologized, and Americanized us through his short stories. This theme of location carries throughout the book--how does place mold you? And how is the history of a place formed? Along this line, the ambiguity of the title is wonderful: who is the genius loci of the house, the town? Orville's mother appears to him in visions or hallucinations, and yet there are times when politician Henry Schooner, historian Miranda, and even Orvy himself appear as guardian figures. Indeed, perhaps the message of the book is that despite all our human failings, all of us have the spark of a divine protector.Highly recommended.
strongstuff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Set in a quirky upstate New York town with a cast of offbeat characters, 'The Spirit of the Place' had great potential. However, mediocre writing, a rather predictable plot, and too many encounters with a grating and somewhat disturbing ghost of a mother caused me to give up after about 120 pages.
msl521 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Shem couldn't make up his mind whether he wanted to write a medical thriller or a love story. The love story was predictable. The medical thrills were non-existent. It was interesting as a social commentary on contemporary society as seen in through the similarities with the 1980s.
su_library_student on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of a man who returns home too late to attend his mother's funeral. He finds out that her will stipulates he remain in the town for 1 year and 13 days in order to receive his substantial inheritance. The rich descriptions in the book help to bring alive the town and people. The interactions between the different characters was believable, sad, joyful, and surprising at different times throughout the book. The town is described as a character and influences the lives of those who live in it and dampens the spirit of many. At the end of the book, I found it hard to put down because I wanted to see how it ended. Overall, Samuel Shem has made Columbia, NY come alive with his vivid descriptions. It is beautifully written and an easy read.
ireed110 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dr. Orville Rose returns to his hometown of Columbia, New York, having learned belatedly of the death of his mother. He has spent the years since he left trying to forget Columbia, and all it represents to him.Forced to choose to stay in Columbia by the terms of his mother's will, he postpones his romance with the sensual Italian Buddhist yoga teacher Celestina Polo (perhaps my favorite person in the whole book), and steels himself for a year of mingling with the base Columbians he so despises. His old relationships - with his mother, with his childhood nemesis, his sister, and his mentor - are all rekindled and reshaped, and new relationships begin.I enjoyed the "doctoring" parts of the book. I cried like a baby when, over several pages, he describes what it was like for him to sit with a dying friend. This is where Dr. Shem's strengths lie -- in sharing what the gift of healing really means, to both the patient and the doctor. It made me feel good to know that at least some doctors value that relationship.Where the book failed me was with the relationship Orville has with Miranda, the town historian. I didn't feel the love, and worse yet, when they'd had "the worst argument ever" (or something to that effect) I didn't even realize it until they referred to it later. To me, it read like a discussion - a long, boring one. The passion did not come across - I could have cared less what happened to the two of them, really (and not just because I really liked Celestina Polo, either). Dr Shem's prose is beautifully written, but the dialog leaves me cold.There are some other relationships that are cultivated over the course of the book, and some of those bore fruit. I had expected this book to be all happy endings presented in neatly tied packages, but this was not so, and I was actually relieved to find that not all of the battles were won and it was not as predictable as I felt it was shaping up to be. The book started out well, and then lost me. It was not a book that I rushed to pick back up, or stayed up late reading. As a matter of fact, I felt quite indifferent to the cast of characters for most of it. The middle part was painfully slow, and I considered giving up on it. In the end though I am glad that I persevered - there is valuable insight, lovely language, and some ideas worth considering.
froxgirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"The Spirit of the Place" begins with an uplifting and sexy episode involving physician Orville Rose and his tantricly inclined lover Celestina Polo (a Kurt Vonnegut name if there ever was one) in Northern Italy. Too soon Orvy returns to upstate New York upon the death of his dead-but-not-quite-gone-yet mother.The entire town of Columbia (not the gem of the Hudson Valley) could seemingly be wiped off the map with great cause for celebration. Most of the residents, including Orvy's mentor Dr. Bill and his childhood nemesis politician Henry Schooner, display their evil attributes without hesitation or regard for consequences. Despite the gloomy setting, a town inhabited by both magical realism and constant pestilence, I read compulsively until the last fifteen pages, when I slowed down to a crawl to enjoy the anticipated satisfactory ending. This is such a compelling book of seemingly endless misery and impossible redemption. This book will remain embossed in my memory. I am pleased to have been an early reviewer.
KLSimpson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After reading all the negative reviews, I'm surprised I liked the book as well as I did. Yeah, it was a little predictable, but it was a nice, easy read. It's the type of book I like to read after reading something really intense. The characters are human and likeable (the good ones) and the small town atsmophere feels accurate (made me glad I live in a big city!) It probably won't be a book I read over and over again, but I enjoyed it.As an Early Reviewer, I appreciated the hand-written note apologizing for the long delay in receiving the book.
rastaphrog on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dr. Orville Rose has been living in EUrope practicing medicine at a European spa and life is pretty good. He likes his work, and he's fallen in love with a beautiful Italian yoga instructor. That's all about to change. "Two Bad things will happen today" she tells him one day as they set off boating on a lake. He scoffs, but soon finds out she was right. The "bad thing" that effects him the most is finding out his mother had died some time ago as he was wandering around Europe. This is the story of his return home, and how he deals with having to stay there for just over a year if he wishes to inherit everything his mother has left him.So we read the story of how he reacts and deals with what he considers his "punishment" by his mother. The story has both it's comedic and tragic moments, just as life often does. While the story didn't grab my attention and make me want to keep reading straight thru, I did keep going back to it after short diversions to other things to see what would happen next. Settling in to a "small town" type of life after the more "cosmopoltian" style of living in Europe, we watch as Orville fights demons from his past just wanting to get back to Italy, while at the same time seeing his boyhood home in ways he had never really seen it before.We get to watch as both he and those around him react and interact with one another. There are changes for the good and bad, but just who those changes are good or bad for may not necessarily be who you might expect. In their own ways, each character goes thru a change even tho it's Orville whose life we are following most closely.Being about a doctor and his life, there's some medical jargon and doctoring going on, but none is graphic or over used. It's primary use is to give Orville more chances to interact with and learn about the townspeople. While like all books this one won't be for everyone, if you enjoy reading "life stories" type of books, you should find this enjoyable.
karen_o on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This story of the return of Dr Orville Rose to his small hometown of Columbia, New York after the death of his mother, Selma, is a wonderful blend of tragedy and comedy. During the year and 13 days that Orvy remains in the town he loathes in order to fulfill the terms of his mother's will and receive his inheritance we meet many a colorful character -- including the deceased Selma, now returned to a youthful beauty, flying about at night and sniping at her son from on high. The characters -- including that of the town of Columbia -- are cleverly drawn and all worth meeting.Not the most brilliant book I've read this year, but a good solid read and well worth the time. I will recommend to many.
muninn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In The Spirit of the Place, Samuel Shem's descriptive prose illustrates the return of Dr. Orville Rose to his hometown following the death of his mother and his experiences following that return. Other reviewers have provided a good plot summary, so I won't repeat that here. What I will comment on is the nature of the writing: while I liked Shem's earlier works better (particularly Mount Misery), both the humor and character of his writing remains strong. Unfortunately, the plot of The Spirit of the Place isn't as similarly strong, but it's still a pretty good read. It's also a book that I've picked up and put down several times: maybe not strong enough to hold me through the duller parts, but with enough of a hold to keep me coming back to it.
schmadeke on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Spirit of the Place makes two books in a row that have reminded me why I should never judge a book by its cover. The cover of this book left me thinking 'meh' but the novel itself knocked my socks off.Shem's prose is mesmerizing and beautiful. This is a book to be savored. The plot steadily unfolds versus rushing forth. And yet, it held my attention from start to finish.The most outstanding aspect of this novel, for me, was the emotional depth that Shem conveyed in his characters. Especially in Orville and Miranda, but also in secondary characters such as the old town physician Bill Starbuck, Miranda's sweet six year-old son Cray and Orville's passionate, impulsive pre-teen niece Amy. Even characters who made brief appearances, such as the flighty, ethereal Celestina Polo, and Starbuck's dutiful wife Babette were vivid to the reader through Orville's narration.Orville was a man full of turmoil. His love life. His career. His relationship with his deceased mother. All his life he ran away instead of staying. Because of the terms of his mother's will, he is forced to stay. In Columbia, that is. The town of Columbia is a character in and of itself. A town so unbelievably self-destructive that it borders on hilarious. Orville stayed under duress. Thanks to his mother's will, he stood to gain almost a million dollars by staying for at least one year and thirteen months. Could he learn to love, or at least accept his hometown. Would he?Then there was his relationships with women. I wouldn't say I didn't like Celestina Polo, but I thought she was wrong for Orville. Miranda, on the other hand, I not only adored but completely sympathized with. It was difficult to watch Miranda and Orville's relationship deteriorate. Their fears, their emotions seemed so incredibly real. It was what most of us have felt at one time when we wanted something so badly, but were so afraid we couldn't have it that our fears became a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy.Finally, there was Orville's relationship with his mother, Selma. Selma cared enough about her son to leave a boxful of letters to be sent to her son at specified times after her death. Yet, the letters were often harsh and critical and full of unforgiveness and grudges held by a mother against her only son. Orville's struggle to come to terms with Selma, Miranda, and the sad little town of Columbia - and they are all intertwined - is the driving force of this story. There are several interesting subplots artfully woven in, such as the fight to save an historic Columbian hotel, Orville's relationship with the man who tormented and bullied him as a child, and Cray, Miranda's son who falls for Orville in much the same was his mother does: tentative love mixed with self-protective fear.Shem's fascinating account of Orville's cathartic one year and thirteen days in Columbia is a perfect example of how a return to our hometown can force us to face the past.
xmaystarx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Spirit of the Place tells the story of Dr. Rose who returns to his hometown upon his mother's death. Colombia, NY, the town he returns to, is a character in itself in this book. Shem paints a picture of a dreary, run down town full of families who have been there since its inception. You get the feeling that these people have lost hope and interest and just go with the flow. Dr. Rose becomes the town doctor while he is made to live there for a year in order to get his inheritance (part of his mother's will). The story revolves around his feelings towards the people of Colombia, the town itself, and the self reflection and development that takes place during his stay. The feeling of the book reminded me of Empire Falls by Richard Russo - the sad town striving the best it can. Shem paints such an interesting picture of Colombia and it's history that I was wanted to learn more and find out if there was a real Colombia, NY (according to another reviewer it was based on Hudson).I really enjoyed this read and found myself wanting to read past my bedtime and see where the story went. It is one of those books that you need to read to the very last page to find out what truly happens. With a few unexpected twists and turns and intriguing descriptions throughout this was an enjoyable read.
passionforthepage on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What¿s it about? Orville Rose, a doctor with Doctor Without Borders in Italy, is called home to upstate New York after his mother's death. He goes to collect his inheritance, but his mother has left a catch in her will. In order to collect, Orville must live in her house for a year and thirteen days. He reluctantly decides to stay and, in the process, reconnects with the man who was his mentor and the man who was his childhood bully. While he's there, he winds up taking over his mentor's practice and reexamining his own life. Random thoughts: Such an odd book. It kind of reminded me of a episode of Seinfeld -- nothing much happens (or at least not quickly), but it's so compelling you can't help but keep reading (or watching, as the case may be). In places amusing and in others confusing, the book doesn't attempt to solve all the mystery or clear up all of the misunderstandings between the characters and, in that, was very life-like. Overall I found it an interesting, if not terribly exciting, read.
Bks4JHB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this quite a while back, and delayed writing a review because I didn't quite know what to say ... I don't think it was terrible, I've read much worse, but it definitely wasn't memorable. I had to pick it up again and scan through it to remember it -- not the most engaging book I've ever read, and not much happening plot-wise. There are so many other books about small-town America that I would choose over this one. The author does, however, shine a bit when he ventures into medical territory.
RoseCityReader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Samuel Shem is famous for his 1978 best seller, House of God ¿ a humorous ¿expose¿ of life for hospital interns and still a ¿must read¿ for many medical students. His latest novel, The Spirit of the Place, is also about the practice of medicine, but this time leaves the hospital for solo practice in the small Hudson River town of Columbia, New York. Nominally, the hero is Dr. Orville Rose, whose mother¿s death brings him back to Columbia from Europe, where he was in the middle of a divorce-triggered mid-life crisis centered on an affair with an Italian yoga instructor. Strong-armed by the terms of his mother¿s will, Orville must live in her house and practice medicine in Columbia for a year and 13 days if he is to inherit her fortune. But the town of Columbia is really the main character. A rocky escarpment flanked by swamps, shouldering an inexplicable (as it was once a freshwater port) whaling theme, Columbia has seen better days. The town and it citizens are now burdened with every problem imaginable, from industrial pollutants and gang violence, to a gonorrhea epidemic and chronic obesity. On top of it all, Columbia has a well-earned reputation for ¿breakage¿ ¿ anything the town does goes wrong, including parade floats and city council slide shows. Orville¿s battle with Columbia is the central conflict in the story, but he is in conflict with everyone and everything. He cannot seem to get along with his ex-wife, his Italian lover, his new Columbian girlfriend, his sister, his brother-in-law, his neighbor, himself, or even his dead mother who keeps appearing to him for conversations as well as sending him posthumous letters. All of this makes for a compelling plot with plenty of interesting side stories and the obligatory cast of colorful locals. Shem gets an A- for conceptualization. But he deserves a C- for execution. Quirks in his writing style prove so distracting that it is hard to get into the flow of the story.First, there is the jarring dichotomy between the medical storyline and the personal. Shem is at his best when writing about medicine, especially in describing the bone-wearying monotony of injury, violence, illness, and death that fills a 36-hour shift in a small town emergency room. But his hard boiled prose and gallows humor (Orville calls to say he will be late for dinner because everyone is dying, they¿re just not doing it fast enough) contrasts jarringly with the fluffy soft New Age drivel in the personal scenes, such as this particularly saccharine passage:Miranda leaned against the doorjamb. Seeing this man she loved make the move towards fathering, she felt her heart lighten, lift, her whole being lift so it seemed she had to hold on to the door to stay down on the ground. Her face flushed, her eyes teared up, her heart opened like a new tulip.What is worse ¿ the use of ¿father¿ as a verb? Or, ¿her heart opened like a new tulip¿?Also distracting is Shem¿s use of multiple perspectives. The story is told in third person, mostly from Orville¿s perspective. But some of the scenes with girlfriend Miranda are written from her perspective. Worse, Shem sometimes switches perspective between the two within the same scene, or even the same conversation.Finally, Shem¿s humor can get tryingly cheeky ¿ proving the rule that it is very hard to write a funny book. Shem always goes for one too many laughs, pushing the joke too far: too many quirky villagers, too many funny business names, too many small town silly juxtapositions. Some jokes, like the ménage à trios involving the flamboyantly gay amateur theater director, a bitter divorcee, and a rent-a-clown are just too cute by half.Overall, The Spirit of the Place just does not live up to its potential.
OneMorePage on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After the death of his mother, a forty-year-old doctor returns to the small Hudson River town, Colombia, in which he grew up--and ran away from as soon as he could. He thinks he will be there for just a few days, then return to Italy and the bed of his New Age girlfriend, Celestina. On his arrival, however, he discovered that his mother had left him a substantial sum of money, which he would inherit if he stayed in town for one year and 13 days. On the fence over whether to stay or go, he visits his mentor, the town's aging doctor. Before he knows it, his long-time friend has gone on a trip around the world, he is now the only practicing physician in a town where breakage is the norm, he is falling in love with a woman who, herself, is broken, and is becoming a father to her son. Throughout the year he continues to put down deeper roots while constantly talking about leaving. When the year and 13 days is up, he finally has to decide.A good, yet predictable, story. The theme of "breakage" resounds throughout the book--the town itself and the people in it are comically accident-prone, and the doctor's mother and his girlfriend are both physically and emotionally broken. Unfortunately, the author, in making this theme clear to the reader, shouted it a bit too loudly for my taste. There were also scenes where the spirit of the doctor's mother floated into his life periodically, delivering a few words before flying off again. I am still struggling with these scenes; I believe the book would be more successful without them. But overall, it was a good story with engaging characters and a well-constructed plot.
JanesList on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A 40-year old doctor returns to his hometown at his mother's death and finds that the terms of the will require him to stay there for a year and thirteen days in order to inherit. While there, he helps out as a doctor for the town, tries to work out his love life, and contends with letters and appearances from his dead mother.I have to give this book a mixed review. On the one hand, I did want to know what happened, I liked the appearances of the doctor's flying ghost of a mother, and the town that specialized in bad decisions. There were some memorable descriptions and ideas in here. By the time I finished the book, I was thinking about the choices we can make in our lives that lessen us, and felt encouraged to try to do better. On the other hand, if I hadn't wanted to finish the book in order to write a fair review, I might have stopped partway. I could have done without the many graphic descriptions of broken and wounded people the doctor had to take care of. There were quite a few plot cliches that, especially when described out loud to my fiance, caused eye-rolling. I can 't be more specific without being a spoiler, so I'll just say that they are the "and it actually turns out that..." type.I found myself wanting to know if this town was real (it appears to be based on Hudson, NY), and if the town history had any accuracy (it does). The author did his homework. But there is a glaring piece of urban mythology that is brought into the plot, and I'm still scratching my head about how it got into a real book. It was one of the accidents the doctor has to contend with - the classic "men drive onto the lake to ice fish, throw dynamite to make a hole, loyal dog retrieves the stick, returns, boom!" story (it's all over the internet). I was so startled to find this in a novel, that it knocked me out of the flow of the book.Would I recommend the book? I wish it had been better. I guess I wouldn't tell someone not to read it, but I might not press it into their hands.
vzakuta on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Samuel Shem is famous for his cult favorite "House of God" -- revered by medical professionals and students for over 30 years. His new book is less sharp and shocking but more of a magical, gentle, deeply philosophical and stirring book. It is a tale of a medical doctor returning to his native little town in U.S. where he confronts his childhood fears, finds out what he has been running away from when left it as a younger man, finds the meaning of love, friendship, hate, charity, emptiness and fullness. The writing is beautiful and rich in imagery and language. Samuel Shem's "The Spirit of the Place" reminds me of Robert Helenga's "Philosophy made simple." This book is a hidden gem. I hope it reaches the wide reader audience it deserves.
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
As a very young boy, Orville Rose senses that he is "a part of something else," a joyous cry that his mother quickly quashes with the stern response, "This is all there is." Orville runs to his room in tears and basically spends the rest of his life running away. Now after he has served overseas as a Doctor Without Borders and seen all there is to see of suffering, disease, murder and more, he has fallen in love with an Italian woman, Celestina. His tranquility is shattered upon receiving a telegram that his mother died and it is two weeks after her death that he arrives at Columbia, a small town bordering the Hudson River in upstate New York. His mother has stymied her son Orville in two ways: First she leaves him over a million dollars which he gets only after he has lived in Columbia for a year and thirteen days. Second, she has written letters to Orville which an unknown person is mailing, per her direction, to him, letters which are notes condemning Orville for his failure to care for her adequately which he initially takes as truth and proceeds to fulfill in reality. Orville falls in love again after Celestina dumps him for a rich man. As Orville is getting more and more disgusted with his hometown, he meets Miranda and her son Cray, who calls Orville "Orvy." Miranda is handicapped and after awhile Orville realizes how emotionally handicapped he is as well. No, this isn't a morbid book but one in which tragedy, irony, and comedy are always flowing, weaving together and insisting on their own separate, special scenes. In reality, the tendency for all material objects in Columbia to break parallels the brokenness of its citizens. They are blind to progress and what is best for one's own well-being and therefore tend to veto and despise everything new or modern. But it takes a whole novel for the diamond in the rough to emerge in both characters and the town in which they live. You will meet a selfless doctor, a childhood bully turned politician, a woman excelling in her physical beauty and teasing sexuality, a widow terrified to trust in love again, a boy in desperate need of a father, and more characters who immediately grip the reader's interest and don't let go. The Spirit of the Place is fine, literate contemporary fiction about love between a mother and son, son and lover, mentors and more! Wonderful, well-written story!