The Illness Lesson: A Novel

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Samuel Hood has a vision: girls should be educated with the goal of becoming more than wives and mothers. In the Massachusetts of 1871, this is a revolutionary idea, though Samuel has lived his values by raising his daughter, Caroline, with all the education usually bestowed on boys. Now grown, Caroline helps Samuel and his acolyte David create an all-girls school called the School of the Trilling Heart, named after the rare and remarkable red birds that have begun appearing on the grounds with surprising frequency. Soon, the new students arrive, including a girl named Eliza who has a complicated relationship with Caroline’s family history. When Eliza begins suffering from odd symptoms that seem to be connected to the trilling hearts, and the other girls seem to fall ill by suggestion, Samuel’s best intentions are tested—and the girls are subject to cruelty beyond anything Caroline could have imagined.

Dread suffuses The Illness Lesson, and the trilling hearts—though gorgeous—glow on the page with a dangerous shimmer. The question of whether Eliza and the other girls’ strange symptoms are real or imagined recedes as other questions—of agency and weakness, knowledge and denial, loyalty and self-deception—pull readers into a fictive dream as uncomfortable and unsettling as what goes on within Trilling Heart’s walls. The past’s pull on the present is harrowing, Caroline finds. But it is more insidious to blindly accept that we are unable to push the past aside and move forward with strength and new vision.


Reviewed By:

Author Clare Beams
Star Count 5/5
Format Hard
Page Count 288 pages
Publisher Doubleday
Publish Date 2020-02-11
ISBN 9780385544665
Amazon Buy this Book
Issue April 2020
Category Popular Fiction
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