The Soft Room: A Novel

( 2 )


Fiction. Karen Heuler's first novel, THE SOFT ROOM, is the tale of Abby and Meg, nearly identical twins, differentiated by the rare disease that has rendered Meg impervious to physical pain. When hit with hard economic times by their father's cancer, the family is forced to submit Meg to paying medical research. "THE SOFT ROOM starts with a provocative premise and twists its way into unexpected territory. Exploring the meaning of pain and duality, her characters end up in a weirdly life-affirming landscape-the ...
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Fiction. Karen Heuler's first novel, THE SOFT ROOM, is the tale of Abby and Meg, nearly identical twins, differentiated by the rare disease that has rendered Meg impervious to physical pain. When hit with hard economic times by their father's cancer, the family is forced to submit Meg to paying medical research. "THE SOFT ROOM starts with a provocative premise and twists its way into unexpected territory. Exploring the meaning of pain and duality, her characters end up in a weirdly life-affirming landscape-the shape morality takes when faced with cruelty and senseless harm. [Heuler] has a gift for the oblique, a quirky take on things that flows through the narrative like the atmosphere of a planet almost like our own. THE SOFT ROOM is a pleasure to read, fitting for a novel about sensation, and it also rewards the reader with memorable characters and ideas about important themes of our time"--Sally George
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This debut novel by O. Henry Prize-winning short story writer Heuler (The Other Door) centers on Abby and Meg, identical twins with a significant difference: Meg is born with analgia, a rare congenital condition that renders her incapable of feeling physical pain. Though this presents intriguing possibilities, Heuler's understated tone and philosophical preoccupation with the meaning of pain and suffering comes at the expense of narrative tension. Despite the life-threatening nature of Meg's strange condition with no awareness of pain, she often injures herself severely Meg develops a certain air of superiority over her sister and peers as she matures, generating unhealthy sibling resentments. When the twins' mother is diagnosed with cancer, their father submits Meg as a human guinea pig to a research institute in exchange for their living expenses and his wife's medical treatment. Here, the disjointed narrative bogs down with medical jargon and descriptions of the research facility and its menagerie of freaky patients. When Meg grows up, she returns to the institute as an animal research assistant while she seeks out and submits to medical research herself. "It was hard to imagine pain; pain itself was evanescent, even to those who experienced it," she muses. "They were impressed by its devastation, its immediacy, its addictive self-consciousness." Heuler reaches for psychosocial insight, but the flat omniscient voice leaches the novel of emotional impact and pull. Though the denouement offers dramatic possibility, the payoff is too hard-earned. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781931982320
  • Publisher: Livingston Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2004
  • Pages: 253
  • Product dimensions: 5.96 (w) x 8.86 (h) x 0.67 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2004

    A Wondrous Novel that Explores and Celebrates Individuality

    Karen Heuler arrives on the fiction novel scene with excellent credentials as a short story writer. It is rewarding to read such a fine extended novel from a writer who has specialized in the terse, concise, brief span of the short story mode: many who excel in that arena find the challenge of a long novel daunting. Not Karen Heuler. From the original concept of a novel about identical twin girls whose only apparent disparity is the analgia (inability to feel pain) of Meg, a 'defect?' which twin Abby does not share, Heuler has opened the bestiary of life at large and introduces fascinating character after character, each of whom comes to figure in the endlessly creative drama that unfolds. The twins' parents devote their lives to protecting Meg from harm, creating a 'safe' environment that Meg brazenly ignores only to be victim to falls, cuts, bruises, fractures, and deformed limbs despite the omnipresent guardianship of her identical other, Abby. The family's ability to survive this bizarre scientific variant is further complicated by the mother falling victim to a virulent cancer, a twist of fate that further burdens the finances of the family, ultimately forcing the father to move his family to the Institute where researchers welcome the ability to study Meg as a guinea pig while providing the mother with medical care. Life at the Institute includes at least one new friend, Greif, a girl whose mother has a genetic propensity to madness, a gene Greif assures the twins she will inherit. That friendship provides ventures into the dark interstices of the research facilities of the Institute where the girls are made aware of animal experiments on human disease states. Of note, the agonizing pain the twins' mother feels in response to her disease state and chemotherapy serve only as a trigger to make Meg flee the 'un-understood' pain of her mother. After the mother's eventual death and the re-marriage of the father, Abby and Meg drift apart: being unable to live without each identical other ultimately results in strains neither can endure. Abby marries and leads a normal home life, collecting cats and dogs, and aberrant needy homeless children in her workplace while Meg returns to the Institute to serve as a research assistant. Meg herself begins occult-type treatments for her analgia in the form of injections and medications by one of the staff researchers. By other twists of coincidence Meg, Greif and Abby reunite and discover their true individualities in a most absorbing and mysterious ending.If this all sounds rather odd - well, it is, and therein lies the magic of Karen Heuler. Not only does she paint her characters with such realism that we can see them on the page and in the room around us, she also surveys psychological, medical, genetic, and scientific issues with such clarity that reading her book informs as well as entertains. 'Science is a great adventure; so much is still undiscovered. Every autopsy, every microscope slide - there could be anything there. Doors. They are all little doors. Some of the doors go nowhere, some lead back to the start. But there's always a door somewhere that takes you someplace totally new.' 'I want the exact moment when death occurs...The clinical picture. I believe there's part of the brain that signals death; that death itself is an organic response, not just a sort of loss of power. I believe there's a point at which the brain - or the mind - refuses to live any longer because it recognizes that the destruction is overwhelming.' 'Thoughts are chemical - or at least thoughts tied to a physical impulse are. Maybe it's true for all thoughts, even the thought for a play, a poem, a painting, a song. All of it is capable of being induced. I really think everything is, even scientific breakthroughs, energy solutions, cures for cancer. The idea is enormous!' And suggesting the novel's conclusion (without giving it away!), 'The mind is at its best when distracted from itself. Such a tragedy,

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2004

    Who isn't fascinated by twins?

    This book puts a new spin on the ever fascinating connection between twins. Abigail and Megan are both equally energetic and spirited despite Megan's unusual inability to feel pain. A fascinating look at how internal and external forces collide. Psychologically fascinating and a fast paced, easy read!

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