The Soft Room

Karen Heuler


"This absolutely stunning novel is told from the perspectives of twin girls, one of whom is born without the ability to feel any physical pain.  The mesmerizing prose and deep characterizations nearl render the plot - while excellent in and of itself - almost unimportant."  --Debi Lewis, BOOKLIST starred review

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.

In her subtly blaring novel, Heuler has touched on sibling jealousy, animal abuse, medical research abuse, the boundaries of romantic love, the loss of a parent, the loss of economic status—and the general confusion of growing into and beyond maturity. The absorbing maze scene in the research hospital, with its rows of specimens and abnormals, offers an amazing microscosm of all this in itself. This is Karen’s first novel. She has published a short story collection, The Other Door, with the University of Arkansas Press.

ISBN, trade paper: 1-931982-32-5, $14.95                  Sale $7.50

ISBN, library edition:1-931982-31-7, $25.00                Sale $12.50

253 Pages

About the Author: 

Karen Heuler has published extensively in literary and commercial periodicals ranging from Ms magazine to TriQuarterly Review. In 1995 the University of Missouri published The Other Door, her first short story collection. The New York Times praised these stories, saying they were "haunting and quirky … the line between reason and reverie is dissolved; here even the most fantastic seems possible." She won an O. Henry prize in 1998, and in 2002 and 2003 won awards from Night Train magazine and Serpentine, an online periodical. Her stories have been short-listed for the O. Henry awards in 2001, received special mention in the Pushcart Awards 2000, and reached the ranks of finalist in the Iowa Short Fiction Awards and semifinalist for the Nelson Algren Award. She lives and writes in New York.

 Excerpt From the Book:

   They were golden-haired, those twins. They were square-faced with thick eyebrows and strong chins. They had eyes of slate-blue, each with three golden flecks, and abnormally large, dilated pupils. Their mouths were generous and determined. Strong, vibrant girls, they grabbed immediately at anything in reach. Robust, lusty, big babies, their lungs like bellows, accordion-hearted, they expanded and contracted from joy to sorrow, trumpeting with outrage and gurgling with glee. And, no matter what the emotion, even with their crinkled eyelids half-shut on some large sensation, they checked each other to see if their responses agreed.
    Abigail was the first-born, and she came into the world howling, no one had to smack her. Megan, however, yawned, gulped air, shook her fists and didn’t cry, no matter how hard she was slapped. Enid, the new mother, strained to hear the second yell and had to be reassured that the child was silent but healthy. The nurse would say no more, exchanging a quick glance with the doctor. Time would tell if the infant was mute; perhaps the yawns were really inarticulate howls, the first of a series of pantomimes against the world.
    By the time they all left the hospital—Abby in Enid’s arms, Meg in Ralph’s arms—both twins were equally noisy, faces turning pinched red and vocal chords working furiously when they were hungry or soiled or bored. Ralph held his child tentatively, afraid that the diapers and blankets wouldn’t protect him from the warm, vibrant spill (for such small things, they had already managed to christen him—each one—and he had a new respect for small capacities).