Silver Award Winner in Literary Fiction-2009 Independent Publisher Book Awards
The Spirit of the
and Medicine Series #14
2008, 344 pp
courtesy of our partner, Atlas
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Click here to read praise
for The Spirit of the Place
A new novel by the national bestselling author of The House of
Samuel Shem’s classic novel about medical internship, The
House of God, is required reading in medical schools throughout the
world and is celebrated for its authentic description of medical training
and practice, for its Rabelaisian comedy, and for its humanism and vision.
His new novel, and most ambitious work yet, The Spirit of the Place, tells
the story of an expatriate doctor called home to Columbia, New York, in
the early 1980s to face his own history and that of the place. It is a
novel of love and death, mothers and sons, ghosts and bullies, doctors
and patients, illness and healing.
Settled into a passionate relationship with an Italian
yoga instructor and happily working in a European spa, Dr. Orville Rose’s
newfound peace is shattered by a telegram informing him of his mother’s
death. On his return to Columbia, a Hudson River town of quirky people and “plagued
by breakage,” he learns that his mother has willed him a large sum
of money, her 1981 Chrysler, and her Victorian house in the center of town.
But there’s a catch: he must live in her house continuously for a year
and thirteen days.
As he struggles with his decision—whether to stay
and meet the terms of the will or return to his love and life in Italy—Orville
reconnects with Bill Starbuck, the town doctor who mentored a young Orville
and who practices a long-ago kind of medicine that treats the working poor,
people neglected and forgotten by the medical and insurance industries. Now
in his seventies, and in need of help with the practice, Bill convinces Orville
During the course of his year and thirteen days, Orville
reacquaints himself with Columbia and Columbians. He reunites with his sister
and niece and comes to terms with old rivals and bitter memories. And he
doctors a community in desperate need of care. He also meets Miranda Braak,
a remarkable young single mother who aspires to be the town historian. Her
knowledge of and reverence for the past challenges Orville to examine his
own history, and her courage, integrity, and love challenge him to grow.
In this story filled with wit, pointed insight, and drama, Orville learns
what it means to be a healer, and to be healed.
The Spirit of the Place is Shem at his finest—compassionate,
capacious, funny, full of big ideas and memorable personalities. It offers
an authentic, unvarnished portrait of the medical profession and underscores
the crucial link between the health of individuals and the health of communities.
Samuel Shem (pen name of Stephen Bergman)
is a novelist, playwright, and, for three decades, a member of the Harvard
Medical School faculty. His novels include The House of God, Fine, and Mount
Misery. He is coauthor with his wife, Janet Surrey, of the hit Off-Broadway
play Bill W. and Dr. Bob, the story of the founding of Alcoholics
Anonymous (winner of the 2007 Performing Arts Award of the National Council
on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence), and We Have to Talk: Healing Dialogues
between Women and Men.
Of related interest:
Return to The House of God edited by Martin Kohn and Carol Donley
Fourteen Stories: Doctors, Patients, and Other Strangers by Jay Baruch