Item description for The Soft Room by Karen Heuler...
Overview Twin sisters Meg and Abby find themselves growing apart under the strain of Meg's illness and Abby's constant pressure to take care of her sister.
Publishers Description Abby and Meg are nearly identical twins, with one major exception: Meg was born with a rare disease that renders her impervious to physical pain. As a child, this "ability" soon makes her contemptuous of the whimperings of children with their skinned knees and busted lips - despite medical warnings that the disease could eventually cost her life if she weren't careful to pay attention to bleeding and physical aches. The disdain over her physical imperviousness grows into a pre-teen haughtiness over her psychic superwoman self until the family is economically forced by her father's cancer to submit Meg to paying medical research. Suddenly, Meg is one of many abnormals, and like solitary high school geniuses thrown into a select university setting of hundreds of solitary geniuses, the plot thickens.
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Karen Heuler's stories have appeared in over 60 literary and speculative magazines and anthologies, from Alaska Quarterly Review to Weird Tales. She's published a short-story collection, The Other Door, and the novels THE SOFT ROOM, Journey to Bom Goody, and THE MADE-UP MAN. She lives in NYC with her dog, Booker Prize, and her cat, Pulitzer.
Karen Heuler currently resides in New York New York.
Reviews - What do customers think about The Soft Room?
two part invention Aug 21, 2006
A twin pleasure!From the divided self to neighbors make good fences, Karen Heuler's The Soft Room makes heart and brain race to turn the next page.
Exploration of pain Oct 16, 2004
The Soft Room is based on a clever plot involving twin sisters Abigail and Megan. Though they are identical, there is one big difference. Megan is born with a rare disease that causes her to feel no pain. In the hands of a lesser writer, this plot could easily have turned predictable, but Heuler's writing is anything but predictable. This is a story about how something that everyone takes for granted--that is, the ability to feel physical pain--can, by its absence also cause a person to feel such disattachment to the human condition that they also suffer the grief of being unable to experience emotional pain. I found this novel dark and disturbing. At times it had the feel of something Stephen King might have come up with, and that is certainly a compliment in this reader's opinion. If you enjoy exploring the darker sides of the human condition, then you will find this book to your liking. A fine novel, and worth the time and money invested. I give it five stars.
A Wondrous Novel that Explores and Celebrates Individuality Oct 7, 2004
Karen Heuler arrives on the fiction novel scene with excellent credentials as a short story writer. It is rewarding to read such a fine extended novel from a writer who has specialized in the terse, concise, brief span of the short story mode: many who excel in that arena find the challenge of a long novel daunting. Not Karen Heuler. From the original concept of a novel about identical twin girls whose only apparent disparity is the analgia (inability to feel pain) of Meg, a 'defect?' which twin Abby does not share, Heuler has opened the bestiary of life at large and introduces fascinating character after character, each of whom comes to figure in the endlessly creative drama that unfolds. The twins' parents devote their lives to protecting Meg from harm, creating a 'safe' environment that Meg brazenly ignores only to be victim to falls, cuts, bruises, fractures, and deformed limbs despite the omnipresent guardianship of her identical other, Abby. The family's ability to survive this bizarre scientific variant is further complicated by the mother falling victim to a virulent cancer, a twist of fate that further burdens the finances of the family, ultimately forcing the father to move his family to the Institute where researchers welcome the ability to study Meg as a guinea pig while providing the mother with medical care. Life at the Institute includes at least one new friend, Greif, a girl whose mother has a genetic propensity to madness, a gene Greif assures the twins she will inherit. That friendship provides ventures into the dark interstices of the research facilities of the Institute where the girls are made aware of animal experiments on human disease states. Of note, the agonizing pain the twins' mother feels in response to her disease state and chemotherapy serve only as a trigger to make Meg flee the 'un-understood' pain of her mother. After the mother's eventual death and the re-marriage of the father, Abby and Meg drift apart: being unable to live without each identical other ultimately results in strains neither can endure. Abby marries and leads a normal home life , collecting cats and dogs, and aberrant needy homeless children in her workplace while Meg returns to the Institute to serve as a research assistant. Meg herself begins occult-type treatments for her analgia in the form of injections and medications by one of the staff researchers. By other twists of coincidence Meg, Greif and Abby reunite and discover their true individualities in a most absorbing and mysterious ending.
If this all sounds rather odd - well, it is, and therein lies the magic of Karen Heuler. Not only does she paint her characters with such realism that we can see them on the page and in the room around us, she also surveys psychological, medical, genetic, and scientific issues with such clarity that reading her book informs as well as entertains. "Science is a great adventure; so much is still undiscovered. Every autopsy, every microscope slide - there could be anything there. Doors. They are all little doors. Some of the doors go nowhere, some lead back to the start. But there's always a door somewhere that takes you someplace totally new." "I want the exact moment when death occurs...The clinical picture. I believe there's part of the brain that signals death; that death itself is an organic response, not just a sort of loss of power. I believe there's a point at which the brain - or the mind - refuses to live any longer because it recognizes that the destruction is overwhelming." "Thoughts are chemical - or at least thoughts tied to a physical impulse are. Maybe it's true for all thoughts, even the thought for a play, a poem, a painting, a song. All of it is capable of being induced. I really think everything is, even scientific breakthroughs, energy solutions, cures for cancer. The idea is enormous!" And suggesting the novel's conclusion (without giving it away!), "The mind is at its best when distracted from itself. Such a tragedy, although I see in it a parable of sorts. It is interesting, isn't it, that when [Meg] was immune to pain she had no purpose; it is only now, when she must lock herself up in a soft room, that she can focus."
And though I find myself quoting the more scientific aspects of Hueler's novel, it is her beautiful prose and vivid characterization that make this alluring novel a page turner. This is a writer of exceptional talent, a writer who is a joy to read. It is also important to comment that the care in choosing the cover of this book seduces you into the mysteries and joys between the covers. On the book's cover is a superb design by Helosia Zero which focuses on the very beautiful painting of twins by the artist David Fratkin. Boy, as a curator and art writer I would certainly like to see more of his work! Highly recommended reading and an especially fine choice for book clubs and other intellectual pursuits!