Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Spirit of the Place (2008)

I received a copy of The Spirit of the Place by Samuel Shem (2008) through the truly great and wonderful LibraryThing Early Reviewers program (although the publisher was supposed to send it in March and only just sent it a week or so ago, so the book has actually been released already and this early review is not quite so early).

The Spirit of the Place is a solid novel about Orville Rose, a divorced doctor who has spent the last several years living as an expatriate in Europe and alternately working as a doctor for charity organizations and doctoring the wealthy at a series of spas. While on a vacation with his Italian girlfriend, Orvy receives a telegram that his mother has died, so he quickly returns to his hometown of Columbia, New York. Once there he learns about his mother's unusual will which leaves him half the estate, the family home and the car, but only if he lives in Columbia for one year and thirteen days -- otherwise everything goes to his sister. After a little indecision, he decides to stay, moves into his childhood home, and begins helping out the town doctor -- who also happens to be his good friend and the childhood mentor that got him interested in medicine.

All seems relatively normal until Orville begins getting letters from his deceased mother, starts seeing her ghost flying around town and talking to him, the horrible bully from his childhood is running for Congress and wants to make friends, and he gets involved with an intriguing young widow who also happens to be the town historian and the mother of a young son.

Shem's characters are deeply drawn and although Orville's story of forgiveness, self-reflection, and growing understanding of his home and family pretty much go where you think they will, the steps along the way and the people in the town are unique, interesting, and well-written. The best bits are the doctoring parts, and since Shem is a doctor himself they have an appealing realism to them. Definitely worth picking up...

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