The Spirit of the Place

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Overview

Samuel Shem's classic novel about medical internship, The House of God, is required reading in medical schools throughout the world and is celebrated for its authentic description of medical training and practice, for its Rabelaisian comedy, and for its humanism and vision. His new novel, and most ambitious work yet, The Spirit of the Place, tells the story of an expatriate doctor called home to Columbia, New York, in the early 1980s to face his own history and that of the place. It is a novel of love and death, ...

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The Spirit of the Place

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Overview

Samuel Shem's classic novel about medical internship, The House of God, is required reading in medical schools throughout the world and is celebrated for its authentic description of medical training and practice, for its Rabelaisian comedy, and for its humanism and vision. His new novel, and most ambitious work yet, The Spirit of the Place, tells the story of an expatriate doctor called home to Columbia, New York, in the early 1980s to face his own history and that of the place. It is a novel of love and death, mothers and sons, ghosts and bullies, doctors and patients, illness and healing. Settled into a passionate relationship with an Italian yoga instructor and happily working in a European spa, Dr. Orville Rose's newfound peace is shattered by a telegram informing him of 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. But there's a catch: he must live in her house continuously for a year and thirteen days. As he struggles with his decision-whether to stay and meet the terms of the will or return to his love and life in Italy-Orville reconnects with Bill Starbuck, the town doctor who mentored a young Orville and who practices a long-ago kind of medicine that treats the working poor, people neglected and forgotten by the medical and insurance industries. Now in his seventies, and in need of help with the practice, Bill convinces Orville to stay. During the course of his year and thirteen days, Orville reacquaints himself with Columbia and Columbians. He reunites with his sister and niece and comes to terms with old rivals and bitter memories. And he doctors a community in desperate need of care. He also meets Miranda Braak, a remarkable young single mother who aspires to be the town historian. Her knowledge of and reverence for the past ch

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The latest novel from Shem (The House of God) is the funny and wrenching account of Dr. Orville Rose's return to his hometown, Columbia, N.Y., after the death of his mother in 1983. Orville's mother's will states that he will receive nearly a million dollars, the family house and a luxury car if he stays and works in Columbia for a year and 13 days. At first he is appalled, but he eventually decides to stay, working with local doctor Bill Starbuck. As he tends to the sick and injured, Orville falls in love with local historian Miranda Braak, becomes acquainted with the locals' careless mean-spiritedness (it's so pervasive that Miranda is working on a thesis called "The Columbian Spirit"), observes a townwide battle over whether to save a grand old hotel and receives ghostly visits from his antagonistic mother. It's hard to put down the book as Orville must decide, once the required stay reaches its end, whether to remain or flee with his newfound wealth. Shem deftly comments on the Wal-Mart-ization of smalltown America while entertaining the reader. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780873389426
  • Publisher: Kent State University Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2008
  • Series: Literature and Medicine Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Samuel Shem (pen-name of Stephen Bergman, M.D., Ph.D.) is a novelist, playwright, and for three decades a doctor on the Harvard Medical School faculty. His novels include: THE HOUSE OF GOD, which has sold over two million copies in thirty languages, FINE, and MOUNT MISERY, called "another medical classic." With his wife Janet Surrey he is the author 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), the nonfiction book WE HAVE TO TALK, HEALING DIALOGUES BETWEEN WOMEN AND MEN (winner of the Paradigm Shift Award of the Boston Interfaith Counseling Service), and the curriculum MAKING CONNECTIONS: BUILDING GENDER DIALOGUE AND COMMUNITY IN SECONDARY SCHOOL. A 30th anniversary symposium-"Return to the House of God: Medical Education Revisited 1978-2008"-will be held at the Cleveland Clinic in October 2008, also published by Kent State University Press. Shem has been honored as one of Boston Public Library's "Literary Lights," as one of "Boston's Best Authors," and as a speaker at the Hemingway Centennial Celebration at the JFK Library. He has received the Vanderbilt University Medal of Merit, has given the commencement address at over fifty medical schools, has spoken all over the world on "How to Stay Human in Medicine," and has published a noted essay, "Fiction as Resistance."
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 29, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    As a very young boy, Orville Rose senses that he is "a part

    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!

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