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THE VIRTUES OF OXYGEN: A Novel ~Susan Schoenberger

“We’ll never really know why one person suffers tragedy after tragedy and the next person skates through life with all their relatives and friends dying in the right order with a minimum amount of grief.  So we struggle.  We wonder and we curse and we kill each other in religious wars, and we really don’t get any closer to the answers, but we try.  That’s all we can do.” (56% of the book on Kindle)

I liked reading THE VIRTUES OF OXYGEN very much, it had a refreshing quality as the reader pondered what it might be like to live life in an iron lung because of polio for 58 years of one’s life. It was just this idea, which presented itself in an article about a woman in North Carolina to Susan Schoenberger. The author became very interesting in Ms. Mason’s life and her story and placed what she learned into this new novel.

There are actually 2 main characters in this story; Vivian and Holly share the focus although they are both sharing the same E. M. Forrester’s theme where by one must let go of the life they thought they were going to have to live the life that they have in reality.   I found myself feeling very sad while reading this book and yet I could not put it down to find out the ending and the outcome for each woman.

The story is in upstate New York in one of those vanishing little towns which are happening all over the country. Vivian has lived here all her life and at 6 contracted polio, and her sister caught it a day later and died.  Her whole life the iron lung kept her breathing and alive.   It took her awhile to find a level of acceptance of her life.  She did get a college degree in business and learned how to invest and make money to help her weary parents get along and pay the bills.  She set up a routine of caregivers for herself and the whole town rallied about this intelligent, smart woman for her care and her needs.  She is a valued member of her community.  Holly is one of her caregivers and the action-figure of the story.

Holly’s husband has died very young and she is left with raising 2 young boys alone.  She is the editor of the weekly newspaper which is struggling to survive. Holly grew up quite well off because of her father’s efforts and is now struggling to pay bills and keep up her mortgage payments while supporting two active teens.  Her brother has recently lost his business to bankruptcy and her sister just has a small studio apartment in NYC where she is a dancer.  The boys need funds for band uniforms and trips and Holly has maxed out her credit cards holding on, when yet another death strikes the family a new blow.  The high point of her week is her caregiver time with Vivian.

The writing is very good and I could fully feel the despair of the story.  I liked the format of the story, with Vivian telling her background in unpublished podcasts surrounding Holly’s day to day problems and endeavors.  I too am once again letting go of my expectations that made the book touch a personal spot; I believe most of us have been there and done that at some point in our living.  THE VIRTUES OF OXYGEN is a very good read.

tlc logo  TLC Online Book Tours sent me a kindle copy of this book to review and I enjoyed the read very much   THE VIRTUES OF OXYGEN is worth adding to you list.

“Susan Schoenberger is a writer and editor who lives in West Hartford, Connecticut, with her husband and three children. Her short stories and essays have appeared in INKWELL, VILLAGE RAMBLER, and Bartlebysnopes.com, among other publications.  A long time journalist her first novel, A WATERSHED YEAR won the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing competition.

Twitter @schoenwriter
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11 Responses to “THE VIRTUES OF OXYGEN: A Novel ~Susan Schoenberger”

  1. Hilary Says:

    Hi Patricia … the book sounds a very interesting read, particularly as it will highlight aspects of polio and living with an iron lung – looks to be a good story line .. thanks for telling us about it ..

    Cheers Hilary
    Hilary recently posted..Colours – a little history, then blogging creativity … part 2My Profile

    Patricia Reply:

    Very interesting story and I was just reading about the rise of Polio in Africa right now…Ebola too…This does not need to be so

    Thank you for coming by – popping over to read Part 2
    Patricia recently posted..THE VIRTUES OF OXYGEN: A Novel ~Susan SchoenbergerMy Profile

  2. Sara Says:


    Your book reviews are getting better and better:~) You give just enough information to draw me into a book, but not so much to give away the story.

    I’ve seen this book come up on my Kindle ads, but didn’t know what it was about. It sounds very interesting and I will check it out.

    Another thing I liked is what you shared about the author. This is also why I love your reviews. You often give me details about why a book was written, which is something not always included in other reviews:~) Thank you.
    Sara recently posted..The Hummers Have ReturnedMy Profile

    Patricia Reply:

    It was a good story
    Thank you for your wonderful words. I try to write reviews that I would like to read – I just get upset when the review ruins the book for me…some reviews are so detailed that I am finding in conversations folks have only read the reviews and not the book –

    I just read two reviews and I thought the reviewers totally missed the point and theme of the book, Their analysis was totally off base.

    I like to talk about books in a discussion, but I also like to catch the little magic touches for sure.

    This book did make me sad and took me a day to get over my own financial concerns – I don’t know about my happy ending and I m trying to design it so it comes out right for me….there’s another hint about this story
    Patricia recently posted..THE VIRTUES OF OXYGEN: A Novel ~Susan SchoenbergerMy Profile

  3. Sam Juliano Says:

    Like all great reviews this one pulls you in on its premise and keeps you wanting to learn more about the characters and the difficult situation. Yes it is true that life offer some curve balls to the unlucky, while others sail along without complications and normal life spans. I know a man who had polio since a child, and he lived into his mid-50’s before dying from colon cancer. He was a very popular teacher in our system. This sounds like a terrific read.

    Patricia Reply:

    What we are learning now is that polio can return and change a life a second time – and it is growing as a problem in Africa right now too.

    It is primarily about living the life one is given not just what was expected – and that takes a long time for some people. It was wonderful that the two stories converged in a nice novel
    Patricia recently posted..THE VIRTUES OF OXYGEN: A Novel ~Susan SchoenbergerMy Profile

  4. Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Patricia – I’m drawn to this story because my mother contracted polio at the age of 7, and my father-in-law also had polio. Both after a bout of Scarlet Fever. Thankfully, neither of them had to rely on an iron lung.
    Laurie Buchanan recently posted..All that Glitters is Not GoldMy Profile

    Patricia Reply:

    Laurie it was a very interesting story and that it was related to a person’s life who experience 50+ years in an Iron Lung….it was also revealing how folks cope with what life gives them

    My Paternal Grandmother got TB after the War…and was put in a Sanatorium to heal, as a nurse she waited too long to be diagnosed and she died – leaving 5 young sons to fend almost on their own.

    I think these big illnesses change lives into the future
    Polio is on the rise in one African country right now…I want to go look that up – so many kids here do not get vaccinations
    Patricia recently posted..THE VIRTUES OF OXYGEN: A Novel ~Susan SchoenbergerMy Profile

  5. Susan Schoenberger, author of The Virtues of Oxygen, on tour July/August 2014 | TLC Book Tours Says:

    […] Thursday, July 31st:  Patricia’s Wisdom […]

  6. Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours Says:

    Thanks for being a part of the tour! This sounds like a book that will challenge and touch many readers.

    Patricia Reply:

    Heather J
    I really liked the story but even better the sharing of how the author found the story in the first place

    How folks come to terms with what cards life deals them…interesting material
    Patricia recently posted..THE VIRTUES OF OXYGEN: A Novel ~Susan SchoenbergerMy Profile