To Feel Stuff

Not long out of college herself, novelist gets the vibe right for Brown University outsider.

Elodie Harrington is a Unique Individual to whom Interesting Things Happen Elodie may have some kind of supernatural sixth sense. Elodie becomes romantically involved with just about every boy she meets. Elodie falls ill with a new disease every few days. Therefore, Elodie has been living in the Brown University infirmary for most of her college career. (If, like mine, your state U "Death Services" clinic merely prescribed birth control pills to cure every ailment, reading about a skilled nursing facility on campus may require the greatest suspension of disbelief.) Readers under 25 will enjoy Stuff's quirky characters, exploration of the paranormal, PG-13 sex scenes, maybe even Andrea Seigel's ambitious narrative technique of using three different first-person points of view (sometimes works; doesn't here). If you are over 25, you may experience the not altogether unpleasant sensation of hearing a weird story that happened to a friend of a friend. In fact, readers of all ages will find Stuff quite enjoyable on a sun-baked brain; this is not a book for rainy days or coffee shops. If you were paying too close attention, you'd notice how, of the three narrators, Elodie is the only one inside whose head Seigel really gets us. The other two, a boy patient with whom Elodie has an affair and a doctor studying her for a paranormal journal, rarely rise above caricature. Elodie's doctor: "Life is unpredictable, even for those of us whose job it is to predict it." Elodie's infirmary boyfriend: "You have no idea who I was before I met you." These and other clunkers are hallmarks of a young writer experimenting with voice. Yet Seigel gets the voice right for a 20-year-old developing her own brand of killer philosophy. "Everybody's operating in their own, distinct universes," says Elodie. "Even lying in bed, you and I are living radically different lives. It's disheartening, but true." Seigel gets how it was to be a smart 20-year-old college outsider, and that's what redeems this earnest tale.

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