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ande
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The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion

Greetings Book Explorers!
 
Thanks, again, to those of you who responded to my offer a few weeks ago of free advanced reading copies of soon-to-be-published The Spirit of the Place. I hope you've enjoyed reading it. And for those of you who do not have a book and would like to know when you can buy one, the pub. date is June 15th.
 
This week  (June 2) we're going to talk about Part 1 of Spirit.
 
I found that I got swept into the book right away. When Spirit opens we find Orville, a doctor, in Italy with his girlfriend, Celestina. He is head over heels and has begun to think about his life in a new way. But he gets a telegram that changes his immediate plans.
 
Let's talk about:
 
1. Orville, the man and the doctor
 
2. Going home to eccentric Columbia and small town/home town life
 
3. The will, Selma's letter and a ghost
 
4. Bill Starbuck, small-town doctor -- a dying breed
 
5. Orville's relationships
  • Celestina
  • Penny
  • Milt
  • Selma
  • Meeting Miranda
Please chime in and let us know if I haven't listed a crucial ingredient to discuss.
 
Thanks for signing up. Looking forward to talking with you all!
 
Ande
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GMorrison
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Re: The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion

Jumping right in:

1) Orville strikes me as someone going through a typical midlife crisis: head-over-heels for a new agey girlfriend he's just met, traveling aimlessly around Europe with money no object, spur-of-the-moment career change... One gets the feeling he's got a lot of growing up to do in Columbia, now that he's back.

2) As someone who grew up in a former boomtown trying to recapture its past prosperity, Shem's depictions of Columbia rang true for me in many ways. I could have done without the heavy-handed "Haha stuff always breaks, dontcha know," bits, however.

3) Gotta say I wasn't expecting the magical realism of Selma's ghost and the letters, so these threw me for a loop. I hope these aspects are developed in later chapters. As it stands now, Selma seems a caricature of Jewish motherhood and I don't understand why Orville has such an aversion to her (because hopefully he's an unreliable narrator concerning his mum).

4) I get the feeling Bill is going to teach Orville some Important Life Lessons before Orville takes up Bill's mantle when his heart finally gives out.

5) And the relationships:
--Celestina is obviously a plot device (look at the name!) and Orville's in love with the Celestina he's invented in his head instead of the real human being. I predict she'll make it to Columbia just in time for Orville to tell her he's found true love with someone else.

--Penny and Milt seem to have inhereted the family trait of not being able to connect with one another. I see Orville and his family striving to overcome this as driving a good portion of the narrative in future chapters.

--With all the talk of Orville's aversion to physical deformities, I'd be surprised if Miranda doesn't become his real love interest in this book. She's got kids too, which means Orville will be able to be a dad if they get together, nicely solving that problem of his.

I also get the feeling the names are (not so?) subtle hints in this novel. Celestina, as her name suggests, is a head-in-the-clouds hokey spiritualist, so I see Miranda becoming Orville's miraculous saving grace. I'm enjoying the read, but unless Shem throws some real loops into future chapters, you can see where the story's going from a mile away.
CAG
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CAG
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Re: The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion

I like the way this novel opens. I like Orville, a bit into himself and his desires perhaps, but I liked him. I would probably agree, he has some growing up to do. I can only imagine what going back home to a small town would be like because I grew up and grew old in the same town. I thought Orville might have been trying to escape his past and going back home would bring up old pains. He evidently had issues with his mom but then who doesn't to some degree.
 
I think Selma is trying to bring Orville back to his true self with her Will. It will be interesting to see how that works. I liked Selma's letter and that approach, maybe it is her opportunity to say things to him she never was able to say before or maybe she said them, but felt he never listened. I think a letter has a way of really getting through to someone.
 
 I am still thinking about Celestina so I don't have any comment about her yet.
 
 Dr. Bill Starbuck is the kind of Dr. my mother use to describe as her family Dr. way back when. I am sure there are some doctors in small towns today like Dr. Bill but I believe they are few and far between. I agree he has much to teach Orville. Maybe he has something to teach all of us.   
 
I really like the way this story just seems to flow.
CAG
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ande
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Re: The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion

I think he has created some truly memorable characters. For the most part they feel very fresh to me.
 
Ande
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harleyhoney
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Re: The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion

I finished reading Part One awhile ago, and am doing a quick reread for the details.  I am really enjoying Shem's writing style.   Orville sees Columbia in the distance, "no more than a few glitters of the lowering sun...".  "So small, so innocent and needy, as if you could cup it in the palm of your hand..., it and you safe there for the rest of your life.  With a stab of excitement, he walked toward it.  But then the day attacked.
 
First favorite quote:  "Wet, bruised, and bleeding, smelling like creosote and bitten all over by ferocious insects, several weeks late for his mother's funeral and dressed like a pizza, on August 14, 1983, Dr. Orville Rose arrived home in Columbia."  Quite the arrival for the fine doctor!
 
Have a few more thoughts that I'll post later.
 
Nancy
"Somebody said they saw me swinging the world by the tail, bouncing over a white cloud, killing the blues."
Killing the Blues by Rowland Salley
Performed by Robert Plant and Alison Kraus on RAISING SAND
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Readingrat
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Re: The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion

I just finished Part 1 this morning. Orville, as both a man and a doctor, seems to be a little lost right now. I imagine (with the help of Selma) his year in Columbia will help him develop in both respects. That said, I'm really enjoying the part Selma plays in all of this. Regarding Orville's relationships, I wasn't too surprised that Celestina broke away from Orville. I think that probably would have happened regardless of whether he was in Columbia or in Italy with her. I was happy he found Miranda and hope something develops there. As far as his other relationships... I think many (if not all) of these will change during the upcoming year.
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meme1
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Re: The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion

I'm feeling impatient with Orville; he seems to be wandering in his life and in Columbia - with his mother's memory and her will and his occupation. I'm wondering if Dr. Bill will have a strong influence on him. (By the way I have been fortunate to have small town doctors who knew and truly cared for their patients almost all of my life and I'm more than middle aged!) I think it is ironic that Orville is in the medical profession but finds handicaps a problem.

I find the author's use of letters and a ghost an interesting tool to develop his story.

meme
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IBIS
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Re: The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion

What a amazingly recreated setting... Columbia , it feels like all the small towns that I've lived in, and couldn't wait to move away from.

Although Orville dreads returning home, the author describes life in Columbia... conscious of its shortcomings, but fondly, almost lovingly:

When he first comes at the old strain station: (p.15) "The station was in shambles, paint peeling, brick crumbling. A sign read OLU B A... Some pestilential Caribbean outpost, perhaps?"

"How small everything seems, he thought, as if it's a toy town for a child."

"He ran home. Drank some more bourbon, lit a Parodi, and turned on the TV. Nuns were danccing, interrupted by the Man With the Vegematic."

I could feel the spirit of the town, of the old house... Orville himself, and of the people we'll eventually meet.

It's going to be a wonderful visit.

IBIS
IBIS

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ande
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Re: The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion

Hello all:
 
So glad that you are enjoying Spirit and picking up on many of the book's strengths. I think that Samuel Shem has done a superb job laying out Orville's dilemma. Also it's no small feat to create the descriptive language Shem uses to take us down the road -- or railroad tracks -- with him to Columbia and to the awaiting cast of characters old and new. It's so hard to pull this off and be funny at the same time. And Spirit just gets better and better. Can't wait to hear what you think as you move deeper into the book.
 
Ande
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Wolson
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Re: The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion

After finishing part one I see where Orville is in an almost forced mid-life crises brought on by his mothers death and ultimatum made by his mother to either stay or leave depending on his choice. Orville being placed in the role of the small town doctor, once again working with his old mentor and reason for being a doctor plus having the larger role of working in the area hospital were he constantly viewing the worst.
 
As for Orvilles relationships you could almost see the his love with Celestina not being able to make it through the distance. Now Miranda on the other hand you can feel the spark from the first moment in the school room I do for see much more with them down the line.
 
 
 
 
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IBIS
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Re: The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion

What amazed me was the incredible variety of medical procedures and emergencies that came up in a town like Columbia.... I can't imagine the back-breaking load for the local doctor... Dr. Bill definitely deserved his retirement...

Poor Orville... I don't think he was prepared to take over the practice quite so unexpectedly.

I'm looking forward to see how he copes...

IBIS
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Kegsoccer
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Re: The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion

I think Orville is a pretty interesting character... I can't wait to see how the story unfolds.
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Oldesq
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Re: The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion

I think that Orville is the prodigal son come to take the fatted calf away from Penny and Milt who obeyed the mother's will,  Alternatively, Orville is Ahab in search of the whale with potentially disastrous results.
 
I think everything breaking in Columbia is more than a device to express the small town aspect of the place suggested by GMorrison- people are broken in Columbia too and need fixing.  For some reason I was reminded of the land of broken toys (Sol's territory) from Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.  Also, isn't Columbia the "ship of state" and the female personification of the U.S.- I think there is more here.
 
I agree with GMorrison that the first introduction of the magical realism of Selma's ghost was jarring- especially given how dismissive Orvy was of Celestina's "powers".
 
Did anyone else think that maybe Bill's fumbling with the nitro pills was rather well-timed?  Orville had opened the "out" door and Bill's hand grows from a healing touch to a weight in need of support.  Was the "in, out circle of hell" a Dantean reference? 
 
I also agree with GMorrison that Miranda is telegraphed as the saving grace.  Is she also Miranda of Shakespeare's Tempest with a Prospero soon to appear to Orville's Ferdinand?  Clearly the landlocked Columbia (surrounded by swamps no less!) is a major motif - I am just not sure where  Shem is going with it.
 
It seems to me that the reader is supposed to examine the role of mother and whether mothers should set "realistic" goals for their children.  Selma robs Orville's most defining moment "I am part of something bigger" by telling him "this is all there is" and he never forgives her for it.  Does Selma know better than Orville what Orville needs?  Does she really have all the wisdom or is she so self-centered that she destroys her children by bending them to her will?  Shem and Selma seem to equivocate on this point- Selma's third post mortem letter tells us that she suffered from major depression and has a history of suicide in her family- was this a type of apology to Orvy?
 
Another theme seems to be whether people have the ability to truly change their nature.- which is where Henry comes in- the former bully who is "the mirror image of Gatsby-his past known, his present mysterious." (p. 58) But Orville still sees "in those eyes the sadist" (p. 56). 
 
   
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IBIS
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Re: The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion

I've gotten deeper into Orville's story...

Shem is doing a fine job recreating this small but immensely complex town... he layers physical details with enough history to color our perceptions without overwhelming us with unnecessary minutiae... When Miranda explains the history of "why whales?", it was succinct; it successfully anchored me right into the physical, and the historical, setting of the town...

There is the underlying theme whether people can truly change... can leopards change their spots? Are the spirits of the main characters ingrained from birth... or can they metamorphize into something other?

Will Orville settle down and stop his wandering? Is Henry truly "the mirror image of Gatsby", or merely the grade-school bully playing dress-up in a grown-man's suit?

That theme can also apply to the town itself... can the spirit of Columbia truly change.. from its humble small-town beginnings to the more ambitious dreams of Henry and Milt, businessmen extra-ordinaires?

I can't wait to find out.

IBIS
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CAG
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Re: The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion



harleyhoney wrote:
I finished reading Part One awhile ago, and am doing a quick reread for the details.  I am really enjoying Shem's writing style.   Orville sees Columbia in the distance, "no more than a few glitters of the lowering sun...".  "So small, so innocent and needy, as if you could cup it in the palm of your hand..., it and you safe there for the rest of your life.  With a stab of excitement, he walked toward it.  But then the day attacked.
 
First favorite quote:  "Wet, bruised, and bleeding, smelling like creosote and bitten all over by ferocious insects, several weeks late for his mother's funeral and dressed like a pizza, on August 14, 1983, Dr. Orville Rose arrived home in Columbia."  Quite the arrival for the fine doctor!
 
Have a few more thoughts that I'll post later.
 
Nancy


What I noticed right away about this writer is his wonderful descriptions. I noted several quotes that I wrote down. I am just so pleased with this story and where it is going. It goes without saying that Mr. Shem is very gifted and I glad to be part of this group.
CAG
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DawnR
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Re: The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion

I'm late in joining the discussion for Part 1 (just under the wire to begin discussion of Part 2!). 
 
I echo IBIS' thoughts on, wow!  what a lot of unusual medical procedures and emergencies Orville has to contend with!  For a small town with only two doctors, including himself, there's a lot to handle (and then hand off to Albany if needed!)
 
I was also struck by how quickly Orville's first 7 weeks back in town passed.  On one page he was (easily) convinced by Celestina to stick out the year, gave Dr. Starbuck the good news, then ... he was listening to the garbage truck operator die, 7 weeks later!  I was expecting a front-row seat at the "Welcome Home Orvy" party thrown by Penny, and to be there when he and his niece Amy saw each other again.  I liked the surprise of all that happening out of the reader's view.
 
Looking forward to more discussion; I'll try to join in earlier in the week!
 
Dawn
 
 
Melissa_W
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Re: The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion

[ Edited ]
I was only able to get a few chapters read this weekend but I chuckled over Celestina's strange habits - developing Bhuddist philosophies and a devotion to fine dining and hotels.  Orville certainly seems to be a man who has lost himself somewhere along the way.  I can't help but think that a return to his roots will help him out (although his impatience almost gets the best of him before he even gets back to Columbia).
 
I did balk a bit at the description of a field tracheotomy in 1970s/80s rural Italy.  A result of Orville's time spent in Doctors Without Borders?

ande wrote:
Greetings Book Explorers!
 
Thanks, again, to those of you who responded to my offer a few weeks ago of free advanced reading copies of soon-to-be-published The Spirit of the Place. I hope you've enjoyed reading it. And for those of you who do not have a book and would like to know when you can buy one, the pub. date is June 15th.
 
This week  (June 2) we're going to talk about Part 1 of Spirit.
 
I found that I got swept into the book right away. When Spirit opens we find Orville, a doctor, in Italy with his girlfriend, Celestina. He is head over heels and has begun to think about his life in a new way. But he gets a telegram that changes his immediate plans.
 
Let's talk about:
 
1. Orville, the man and the doctor
 
2. Going home to eccentric Columbia and small town/home town life
 
3. The will, Selma's letter and a ghost
 
4. Bill Starbuck, small-town doctor -- a dying breed
 
5. Orville's relationships
  • Celestina
  • Penny
  • Milt
  • Selma
  • Meeting Miranda
Please chime in and let us know if I haven't listed a crucial ingredient to discuss.
 
Thanks for signing up. Looking forward to talking with you all!
 
Ande





Message Edited by pedsphleb on 06-09-2008 12:15 PM
Melissa W.
I read and knit and dance. Compulsively feel yarn. Consume books. Darn tights. Drink too much caffiene. All that good stuff.
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Oldesq
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Re: The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion

Hey- just realized that Dr. Bill's last name is Starbuck just like the first mate of the Pequod - man the whale boats we're in for a bumpy ride.
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ande
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Re: The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion

One way or another we're all chasing that great white whale.
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harleyhoney
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Re: The Spirit of the Place: Week 1 (June 2) discussion

Here's a few more thoughts, nothing terribly new...

ORVILLE:  It took me a while to warm up to Orville.  Once he's back in Columbia with his sister, spirit mom and that broken down town itself, he's a bit more human.  As other readers have mentioned, Orvy has lots of growing up still to do.  I think that's important as far as any future relationships go.  Orville needs to make his peace with his mom, his past and himself; so he can be a truly loving and giving partner in any relationship.

CELESTINA:  I didn't see the Celestina affair going anywhere, and was glad Part 1 ended as it did.  She seemed very much a "here and now" kind of gal, and Orvy just wasn't there.

THE PLOTKINS:  I love the bond between Amy and her uncle.  I think that she will do a lot to aid in his growth.  It looks like Orville is inspiring a love of healing in Amy by including her in his work, just as Bill did in him.

SELMA:  So, the letters are her way to communicate with Orville.  Is the spirit Selma then, Orville's way to have his say with her?  I do like those spirit episodes, and especially her wardrobe.  Ball gown, golf outfit, suit.  Makes her presence seem much more real.

DR BILL STARBUCK:  What a wonderful mentor for any young person!  His wonderful way with people, his homemade ear device and the Starbusol...kind of wish it didn't smell so piney.  I do want to take away his cigarettes and put him on a healthy diet and walking plan.  He's just too good to lose.

MIRANDA:  Perfect.

HENRY SCHOONER:  Really interested to see what part "the bully" plays.

Thank you, GMorrison, for mentioning the importance of names.  Did you notice that Selma's middle name is Ariel.  With that and Miranda, I thinking The Tempest.  Is Ariel the spirit aid that restores Orville to his rightful home and position?  Is Miranda, already a mom, the woman who makes our sterile Orville a father?  I guess, Oldesq, I was seeing Orville more as Prospero; but I'll do more thinking on that.  Thank you for mentioning the swamps, had forgotten about those.

Chapter 8 was a favorite of mine.  Orville's tears and Miranda's limp, and then lots of laughter as Miranda tells Orvy about the birth of Columbia and why whales.

Now on to Part 2.  Wonder how far off base I am.

Nancy   ~~~o%>

"Somebody said they saw me swinging the world by the tail, bouncing over a white cloud, killing the blues."
Killing the Blues by Rowland Salley
Performed by Robert Plant and Alison Kraus on RAISING SAND