The Illness Lesson: A Novel

The Illness Lesson: A Novel

by Clare Beams

Paperback

$16.00
View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Monday, January 24

Overview

A NEW YORK TIMES EDITORS’ CHOICE
LONGLISTED FOR THE CENTER FOR FICTION FIRST NOVEL PRIZE

“Astoundingly original.” —The New York Times Book Review

From the author of the award-winning debut story collection We Show What We Have Learned, a vivid work of historical fiction with shocking and eerie connections to our own time.


At their newly founded school, Samuel Hood and his daughter, Caroline, promise a groundbreaking education for young women. But Caroline has grave misgivings. After all, her own unconventional education has left her unmarriageable and isolated, unsuited to the narrow roles afforded women in nineteenth-century New England.
 
When a mysterious flock of red birds descends on the town, Caroline alone seems to find them unsettling. But it’s not long before the assembled students begin to manifest bizarre symptoms: rashes, seizures, headaches, verbal tics, night wanderings. One by one, they sicken. Fearing ruin for the school, Samuel overrules Caroline’s pleas to inform the girls’ parents and turns instead to a noted physician, a man whose sinister ministrations—based on a shocking historic treatment—horrify Caroline. As the men around her continue to dictate, disastrously, all terms of the girls’ experience, Caroline’s own body begins to betray her. To save herself and her young charges, she will have to defy every rule that has governed her life, her mind, her body, and her world.


Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525565475
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/09/2021
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 508,269
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Clare Beams is the author of the story collection We Show What We Have Learned, which won the Bard Fiction Prize and was a Kirkus Best Debut of 2016, as well as a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award, and the Shirley Jackson Award. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, and the Sustainable Arts Foundation. With her husband and two daughters, she lives in Pittsburgh.

Reading Group Guide

1. Why do you think the author chose to begin the story with the red birds, or “trilling hearts”? How did they set the tone for the rest of the novel?

2. Each chapter begins with a quote from the novel-within-a-novel, The Darkening Glass, which represents a cultural touchstone for the characters. Can you think of a literary work that carries similar popularity and relevance in our current time?

3. Caroline observes that her father imagines the students as “a kind of beautiful clay: dense, rich, formless, and waiting for him.” What do you think this says about his intentions as a teacher? Have you ever had a teacher who wielded this kind of influence?

4. Eliza is the students’ ringleader and she is also the first to fall ill. How did your feelings towards Eliza change over the course of the novel?

5. The “treatment” that Dr. Hawkins administers is based on a real historical treatment for “hysteria.” What do you think his methods say about the 19th century understanding of women’s bodies?

6. How does the atmosphere of the school change after Sophia’s abrupt departure? What effect does being the only adult woman left at Trilling Heart have on Caroline?

7. What did you make of Caroline’s decision at the end of the novel? If you were in her position, do you think you would have made a different one?

Customer Reviews