Elodie Harrington, an undergraduate at Brown University, is so sick
she has essentially moved into the school's infirmary. Strangely
enough, it is not just one disease or illness affecting her: For
the past two years Elodie has been sick with a number of things,
from the mumps to encephalitis, from chicken pox to tuberculosis.
While her ailments and illnesses are incessant, most seem to
disappear without long-term effects. She does, however, suffer from
continuous, painful fibromyalgia. Elodie's life in the infirmary
gets really interesting when she meets a doctor determined to
understand her case, falls in love, and then starts seeing a
Elodie is the quirky protagonist of Andrea Seigel's second novel,
TO FEEL STUFF. In it we read a long Valentine letter from Elodie to
her boyfriend Chess and Chess's response, also in letter form. We
also read the article about Elodie written by Dr. Kirshling, who
studies her bizarre but fascinating case. These three documents and
three points of view are broken up and interspersed, yet the
narrative is chronological.
Just as Dr. Kirshling begins to get to know Elodie and her massive
medical file, a new patient moves into the infirmary. Chess Hunter
is a charismatic senior who has led a charmed life up until the
moment when an unidentified stranger attacks him during a campus a
cappella performance shattering both his knees. As the
wheelchair-bound Chess is rolled into the infirmary he immediately
senses he is in Elodie's world, one that operates out of normal
time and is little concerned with life outside the building.
Elodie and Chess begin a passionate and emotional affair and are
nearly constantly together for three months. But as Chess begins to
heal, he looks to his future whereas Elodie seems trapped in a
cycle of neverending pain and sickness.
However, Dr. Kirschling has a theory that Elodie's symptoms and
afflictions are temporary and that she is reaching "psychic
puberty." He feels that Elodie's family history of psychic ability
as well as her recent ghostly visits prove his point and begins to
look to methods of paranormal inquiry for answers, eschewing the
traditional medical model.
Seigel's book is charming but disjointed. Her use of multiple
viewpoints is not quite successful as the format (letters and
journal article) does not read realistically. Elodie is such an
interesting character, but we are left knowing very little about
her outside of this moment in time. She has a tense relationship
with her parents and has all but abandoned her school work, but
these ideas are merely presented and not really explored. Chess is
even more mysterious. Why would he fall for a girl like Elodie,
except to pass the time in the infirmary? She is a compelling
figure, but her match with Chess seems contrived. Still, there is
something fascinating about Elodie; her confidence and her
intelligence, not to mention her bizarre health, draw the two men
and readers in as well.
TO FEEL STUFF is an interesting book by a writer with a fresh and
unique perspective. The idea of this very sick and isolated young
woman, who starts having late night conversations with a ghost (or
is he a ghost?), is great. Seigel has blended the medical mystery
and love story genres with the supernatural; her voice is witty and
hip. Even though TO FEEL STUFF doesn't always work to convince the
reader, it is nervy and fun. Seigel (only 26 years old) is a young
author to keep an eye on.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 23, 2011
To Feel Stuff