The Spirit of the Place. Samuel Shem. Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated. December 2012. 416 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780425258781.
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!