The Soft Room

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Karen Hueler’s first novel follows twins Megan and Abby from birth into adulthood. They are identical except for one crucial difference: Megan cannot feel pain and thus has no way of knowing what is a serious threat. When their parents discover Megan’s condition, they dote on her and charge Abby with watching out for her twin. With all the attention on Megan, Abby feels neglected.

Megan, fascinated by the idea of pain, experiments on bugs and even on her friends to see their reactions. She herself is fearless and, as a result, breaks bones and requires stitches. Their life is complicated further when their mother contracts cancer and their father allows Megan to be the subject of scientific experiments in exchange for free, but ultimately unsuccessful, treatment for his wife. As they grow up, Megan, wanting to see what normal life is like, becomes something of a voyeur, watching her twin and impersonating her with her (Abby’s) boyfriends.

Abby, eventually searching for a life of her own, distances herself from her twin. Although Megan has a career as a researcher with the same institute that studied her, she feels lost and alone without her sister. Her inability to feel pain extends to an inability to be involved emotionally with anyone but her twin. The novel closes with an interesting twist but not wholly unexpected.

The Soft Room, a dark and disturbing tale, is foremost a discussion of pain, death, and morality; the characters’ primary purpose is to illustrate these ideas.