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To Feel Stuff


Meet Elodie Harrington, college student and medical anomaly. From chicken pox to tuberculosis, Elodie suffers such a frequent barrage of illnesses that she moves into the Brown University infirmary. When charismatic Chess Hunter enters the infirmary with two smashed knees, he and Elodie begin an intense affair, but Chess is only a visitor to Elodie's perpetual state of medical siege. As he heals, he moves back to his former life. Elodie heads in the other direction and begins to see a ghost. When Professor Mark ...

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To Feel Stuff

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Meet Elodie Harrington, college student and medical anomaly. From chicken pox to tuberculosis, Elodie suffers such a frequent barrage of illnesses that she moves into the Brown University infirmary. When charismatic Chess Hunter enters the infirmary with two smashed knees, he and Elodie begin an intense affair, but Chess is only a visitor to Elodie's perpetual state of medical siege. As he heals, he moves back to his former life. Elodie heads in the other direction and begins to see a ghost. When Professor Mark Kirschling, M.D., gets wind of Elodie, he's convinced he can make his professional mark by cracking her case but he's entirely unprepared for what he's about to encounter.

Andrea Seigel has found a wry, ingenious way to explore the contrast between the first frisson of mortality and a life lived in defiance of it.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Like a contemporary Catcher in the Rye in knee socks . . . a fresh, heart-breaking and tragicomic take on life."-PEOPLE

"[Gives] voice to those wickedly funny things that everyone thinks but nobody would dare to say out loud."-SEVENTEEN

"Like the Red Panda succeeds because it transcends cliché . . . By artfully evoking the despair, even the hopelessness, of such an endearing character, Seigel reaffirms our own private hope that maybe, after all, life does have meaning."-SALON

Entertainment Weekly - Hannah Tucker
"Seigel masterfully slips into and out of the voice of three narrators..."
Publishers Weekly
Seigel's sophomore effort is a scattershot case study in illness, love and the unexplained. Elodie Harrington is an undergraduate at Brown University who lives in the college infirmary, suffering from a series of unrelated illnesses "piggybacked one upon another," so that she never fully recovers. Her story is told from three points of view-Dr. Mark Kirschling's account of her confounding symptoms in the Journal of Parapsychology and letters between Elodie and Chester Hunter III, a fellow undergrad she meets in the infirmary. Though the structure is a bit contrived (the letters and journal article are filled with dialogue), each section picks up with little repetition. As Chester mends and Elodie get sicker, it becomes clear that their blossoming love is threatened by the specter of health. It doesn't all hold up to close scrutiny, but Seigel has crafted believable characters to anchor the fantastical circumstances, and it's a testament to her ability to captivate that the book ends at what feels like just the beginning. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Entertainment Weekly
"Seigel masterfully slips into and out of the voice of three narrators..." —Hannah Tucker
Library Journal
As indicated by her impressive debut Like the Red Panda, Seigel has a gift for creating unapologetically original characters and putting them into friction with "normal" experiences. Her quick follow-up turns this blessing into a curse, with protagonists too large for the book's plot. Elodie Harrington, a waifish college student beset by bizarre medical symptoms, actually lives in Brown University's infirmary, where she meets dashing Chess Hunter, whose privileged experience and outlook are smashed (along with his knees) in an anonymous attack. The two begin an unlikely, dramatic romance against the wishes of Chess's old friends and prim parents, and Seigel's prose captures young love's awkward maneuvering and clich s. The third, if distant, protagonist is Mark Kirschling, an ambitious doctor intrigued at first by Elodie's medical charts and then increasingly by her claims to supernatural powers. The setup is all there but without a satisfactory trajectory or guide. The novel is crowded with personality but little purpose; it gets so claustrophobic that one is relieved to have reached the end. Best suited for young adult readers. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/06.]-Prudence Peiffer, Cambridge, MA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Ivy League coed with mysterious health problems discovers that there might be paranormal explanation for her ailments. Repeatedly and inexplicably stricken with a variety of diseases, including tuberculosis, mumps and chicken pox, 19-year-old Elodie Harrington has grown used to living apart from her peers. A full-time resident of the Brown University infirmary, her insular world of nurses and emergency-room visits is suddenly altered by the arrival of Chess Hunter, a campus golden boy whose knees have been shattered by a seemingly random act of violence. Stuck indoors together, the two fall in love, temporarily oblivious to the fact that Chess, unlike Elodie, is likely to recover soon. Around this time, Elodie's case attracts the attention of Dr. Mark Kirschling, an ambitious physician and professor who believes there is at least some possibility that her condition is psychosomatic. Elodie agrees to let him study her with the understanding that his work will keep her from being expelled. Understandably fascinated by her case, but also a bit smitten by Elodie's extreme fragility, Kirschling learns that Elodie has also begun seeing an "apparition" around the infirmary. Does this mean the girl is out of her mind, or could she actually be experiencing a kind of "psychic puberty," or physical awakening to her extraordinary abilities? And if so, is it even possible for such an unconventional creature to exist in the privileged "real world" of someone like Chess? Both a bittersweet love story and an existential mystery, this confident second novel from the author of Like the Red Panda (2004) has an appealingly edgy heroine in the gifted/cursed Elodie. Unfortunately, her male characters,especially the stilted and pretentious Chess, aren't quite as convincing. Spooky and inventive coming-of-age/ghost-story hybrid. First printing of 100,000.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156031509
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 8/1/2006
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

ANDREA SEIGEL is the author of Like the Red Panda. Twenty-six years old, she's currently working on her MFA from Bennington College and lives in Los Angeles.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
The Journal of Parapsychology October 2004
E and Me
by mark kirschling, m.d.

Life is unpredictable, even for those of us whose job it is to predict it. Doctors, such as myself, observe symptoms and, from those harbingers, predict what will come next. We see glimpses of our patients’ futures. We are, however, lousy fortune-tellers because no matter how far ahead we may try to look, we are inevitably thwarted by the unpredictability of life and its many forms. We are never granted more than glimpses.
Before I began this study, I predicted that I would publish in The New England Journal of Medicine a paper full of test results and established diagnoses. Clearly, I failed to predict correctly. I do not intend this as an insult to the readers and contributors of this journal, for which I have more respect than I could have imagined, but because my failure is so integral to the conclusion of the study itself.
I believe I predicted incorrectly because I imposed on those glimpses available to me the only type of future that I could imagine. Or, rather, I imposed on them the only type of future that I, in my chosen profession, had been trained to accept.
I first became acquainted with my subject, E, in October of 2002. My longtime associate, Dr. Smith Wainscott, told me of a female patient who had been admitted to Rhode Island Hospital an unusual number of times over the past thirteen months. He had been her attending doctor for many of these admissions, and her case had become a source of fascination for him.
“I’ve never seen a short-term medical history like this patient’s,” Dr. Wainscott told me. “Or even a long-term history. It’s not only that she’s had such exotic diseases—which, in fact, she’s had. But it’s that she’s had so many, both ordinary and extraordinary.”
Wainscott and I walked the downtown streets, discussing this mysterious E. Downtown Providence is a cityscape with a strange aesthetic allure for a doctor. Because the skyscrapers are few, and in most other cities wouldn’t even be referred to as skyscrapers, it’s an environment that can lead a man to believe that he might accomplish anything. He’s never dwarfed, as he might be in other cities. On that night in particular, the scale of the buildings made me feel as if I held my own against my surroundings, which, in turn, made me feel as if I could do the same against this complicated E. I asked Wainscott to tell me everything he could remember about her.
Wainscott began to list the girl’s diseases, counting them off on his fingers; when he ran out of fresh fingers, he folded them back into his palm and recycled.
I had been invited to teach at the Brown University School of Medicine because of the pain research I had done in Chicago. My studies had become well known, and the university, in need of a specialist in the field, offered me so many inducements I couldn’t refuse. When Wainscott finally arrived at E’s lingering fibromyalgia, a diffuse, physical pain that many experts believe to be psychosomatic, my mind was swimming with images of her.
I knew that I wanted to meet E, but that I couldn’t compromise Wainscott’s ethics. I couldn’t show up on her doorstep, introduce myself by saying that my doctor friend had been discussing her multiple illnesses with me, and then ask if I could check her blood pressure. I asked Wainscott, “Do you know how I might run across this E?” I was hoping he’d invite me to observe during one of her inevitable future visits to the hospital.
To my surprise, Wainscott told me, “You can just go to the Brown infirmary. She’s living there.” “She’s staying there?” I asked.
“She’s living there,” he reiterated. “Her illnesses have piggybacked one upon another, so that nearly every time she’s recuperated, she’s been knocked down by something else. I wasn’t exaggerating, Kirschling.”
I found this incredible, and wanted to know why the girl hadn’t been sent home. If she was so ill, why hadn’t the school put her on leave?
“If you pay your full tuition and don’t make too much noise, it looks as though they let you stay,” Wainscott said, smiling.
Later I found out that this wasn’t wholly true. Even though E’s bills were covered, the administration had been viewing her with an uneasy eye since September. When she briefly returned to a semblance of health in the spring of her freshman year, the registrar had allowed her to enroll for her fall semester sophomore year, believing that she would be able to resume a normal student life. By the end of May, however, E was back in the infirmary, and through the bureaucratic grapevine, I found out that a few meetings had been called among the deans in an attempt to decide what to do with her. Her professors accommodated her illnesses by delivering assignments to the infirmary, administering exams via the nurse practitioners, and holding monthly bedside “office hours.” I spoke to one professor under the promise of confidentiality, and he shared with me that “E probably attended class just as often as at least eighty percent of the kids in my lecture. That is, not at all.”
The university, however, began to feel it necessary to draw a line that fall while avoiding any sort of discrimination lawsuits. The powers that be were beginning to fear that E would spend another semester, perhaps even another year, inside the infirmary, and wondered how they could defend themselves against the question of whether or not she had had an actual college experience. Among the deans there was reported discomfort surrounding the conditions of her being awarded a diploma, and there was talk about asking her to redo the in-class credits that she had missed as a result of her extended stay in the infirmary.
Luckily, I discovered E through Wainscott at exactly this time.
A week later, I stood in front of Andrews House, otherwise known as Brown University’s Health Services. The building is a red brick classical revival with white pillars framing the entryway. It still looks like the private residence that it was at the end of the nineteenth century. There is nothing clinical about the exterior of the building; as a matter of fact, there is very little that is clinical about the ground floor of the interior, either.
I had been inside Health Services before to visit associates and to retrieve records, but had never looked at the environment through the eyes of someone who might, in this day and age, consider it her residence. Whereas previously my impression of the ground floor had been that it was simply open and inviting, when I set foot in the building that day, I suddenly envisioned it as the parlor that it must have been a hundred or so years ago. I began to interpret things as E might.
On the left side of the floor were chairs and coffee tables, arranged to encourage conversation. From what I’ve since observed during my time in the building, patients instead tend to be silent, reading magazines and filling out their forms. On the day of my initial meeting with E, a student was having such a bad coughing fit that he exiled himself at the northern windows.
I approached the back stairwell, where a sign directed visitors upstairs and instructed them to follow the lines of colored tape on the floor. The green line led to the pharmacy, the blue line to the waiting room on the second floor, and the yellow line to the lab.
I chose arbitrarily to follow the green tape because there was no colored line designating the route to the infirmary. The green path took me through a corridor with a long, built-in desk, at which a nurse practitioner was entering patient files into the computer. This was Vivian, whom I later came to know well.
I asked Vivian where the infirmary was and she pointed to her right, where I saw a closed door that looked no different from the other closed doors in the hallway. I don’t know what I expected—not an entire wing devoted to the school’s ill, but maybe at least a plaque. I introduced myself, told Vivian I was a doctor and professor, and asked if I could look in on the facilities. 
“Sure,” she told me. “We only have one patient right now, and she’s out of contagion.”
I knew she was speaking about E. I felt an overwhelming sense of anticipation, as if I were about to set eyes on a long-lost love. I don’t say this to romanticize the doctor–patient relationship or to suggest that I had anything other than a medical interest in E, but to communicate the magnitude of my feelings about the possibilities of the case.
The infirmary was dim and I had to wait a moment for my eyes to adjust from the brightness of the hallway. Vinyl shades were pulled down over the windows, even though it was the middle of the afternoon. There were translucent curtains over the shades, which I found to be a strange touch, as they seemed to have no utilitarian purpose. It was almost as if they were hung as a joke. I saw six beds with metal frames, all of them empty.

Copyright © 2006 by Andrea Seigel

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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