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The Virtues of Oxygen [Kindle Edition]

Susan Schoenberger
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (625 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $14.95
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Book Description

From the award-winning author of A Watershed Year comes a heartrending story of unlikely bonds made under dire straits. Holly is a young widow with two kids living in a ramshackle house in the same small town where she grew up wealthy. Now barely able to make ends meet editing the town’s struggling newspaper, she manages to stay afloat with help from her family. Then her mother suffers a stroke, and Holly’s world begins to completely fall apart.

Vivian has lived an extraordinary life, despite the fact that she has been confined to an iron lung since contracting polio as a child. Her condition means she requires constant monitoring, and the close-knit community joins together to give her care and help keep her alive. As their town buckles under the weight of the Great Recession, Holly and Vivian, two very different women both touched by pain, forge an unlikely alliance that may just offer each an unexpected salvation.

Editorial Reviews


“Beautifully written and achingly real, The Virtues of Oxygen quickly drew me in to the lives of Holly, a single mother, and Vivian, a polio survivor in an iron lung. Schoenberger skillfully intersects these women’s lives and creates an authentic, emotional, and at times, heartbreaking portrait of small town life during the recession. A richly drawn meditation on loss, love, friendship, and most of all, what it means to breathe—and to fully live.” —Jillian Cantor, author of Margot

“Susan Schoenberger has crafted a powerful novel about a woman whose remarkable strength moves us to rethink our ideas of what it means to live a meaningful life. The Virtues of Oxygen is an incredible mosaic of deep friendship, courageous spirit, and yearning to break free of boundaries that are beyond our control. Beautifully written.” —Tina Ann Forkner, author of Rose House

About the Author

Susan Schoenberger is the author of the award-winning debut novel A Watershed Year. Before turning her attention to writing fiction, she worked as a journalist and copyeditor for many years, most recently at The Hartford Courant and The Baltimore Sun. She currently serves as the director of communications at Hartford Seminary and teaches writing classes at the Mark Twain House in Hartford. She lives in West Hartford, Connecticut, with her husband and three children.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2812 KB
  • Print Length: 243 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (July 22, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00H8UTC0Y
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,023 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
63 of 66 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This writer's best novel is yet to come . . . July 23, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
This is the sort of book I hardly ever read -- women in a small plot and a small town in the midst of profound change. And yet, this was a compelling read or, rather, it almost was. This novel never really fulfills the promise of the first few chapters, but Schoenberger's best work must still be in her. Her prose style is effortless and the story, while uninspired, moves forward with the inevitability of a more profound tale. Any book focused on a woman in an iron lung could read like a gimmick but that doesn't quite happen here, thankfully.

I wanted the book to be about more than it was, however. After a few chapters of remarkable breadth and emotion, Schoenberger contracts her vision and leaves us with a snapshot rather than the panoramic view of life in New York State that she could have written. Since less talented writers have often attempted more and failed, though, I'll settle for discovering a new writer who may end up in the Annie Proulx category. She's neater than Proulx and I'd love to read a broader, earthy novel told in Schoenberger's clean, kitchen-table prose. When she writes it, we'll say that The Virtues of Oxygen was just a side trip on the way to a more historic place.

I will remember Holly and Vivian, though (the women in this book) and the pathetic little newspaper Holly edits (in a very faint echo of Proulx's The Shipping News). There are memorable moments in this book because of the way Schoenberger writes about women. She says in the acknowledgments that her editor helps her coax emotion from her style. That may be, but a writer with her skill should be able to find an epic that really needs telling. That's the book I wanted to read.
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57 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow. Just, wow! June 17, 2014
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I actually had to wipe tears from my normally dry, antidepressed eyes. What a wonderful, wonderful book! It is inspirational, yet avoids any of those cloying cliches such books employ. It is quality literature! It really makes you think, makes you feel. Schoenberger, whose name translates to one of the beautiful mountains, has created a beautiful mountain of a book. She illustrates how the middle class is getting buried, how poverty happens, how we can, if not overcome adversity, make the best of things. People are not always what they seem in this book, and it truly makes you think! A++++
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
“The Virtues of Oxygen,” by Susan Schoenberger, is a lovely character-driven novel about the importance of family, friendship, fortitude, support, and community. The book takes place in the small (fictional) town of Bertram Corners, in upstate New York, during the economic upheavals of the 2007/08 Great Recession. The book focuses on the lives of two very sympathetic, compassionate, and likable main characters: Holly Showalter, a widow and single mother in her mid-forties, and Vivian Markham, a sixty-three-year-old polio survivor whose been living for the past fifty-seven years within the casket-like confines of an iron lung. Holly is one of an army of town folk who volunteer to help Vivian with the daily tasks of every day life.

Also at the center of attention in this book is the town in which the two women reside. On one hand, it is your average American small town weathering the financial upheavals and major changes brought about by the Information Age, globalization, and the Great Recession; and on the other hand, it is an incredibly special town where the residents have come together in support of one of its most unique and vulnerable residents. Without the town’s help, Vivian could not survive. But in the balance, it is perhaps the town that has gained the greatest good in the bargain.

There was nothing particularly unusual about the events in this novel. What happens to Holly is the stuff of everyday life in these difficult financial times. The story unfolds over a few fall and winter months. It is a heartrending first-person narrative. You’ll not be surprised at the type of crises that arise; naturally, all have to do with the inability to make ends meet. Holly’s story is interesting and emotionally engaging, but perhaps all too predictable.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettably Heart-Warming! July 22, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
This could very easily be my favorite book of the summer! For many of us, breathing is simply second nature and perhaps something we take for granted, but the simple fact is, we all need to breath in order to survive. Holly quickly learns that although her problems seem insurmountable, things could always be worse. Vivian has lived her entire life dependent upon a machine to keep her breathing, and yet, she is full of optimism and hope. The bond that develops between Holly and Vivian is unforgettably heart-warming and certainly inspirational. Schoenberger's writing style is impeccable as she transports the reader through time with such ease and grace. I particularly enjoyed Vivian's "Podcasts" that offered so much insight into her past and her life confined to an iron lung..(yes, I kept the box of tissues near by for this one!) With extremely well-developed and endearing characters and a wonderful plot, The Virtues Of Oxygen is easily a FIVE star book and one that I would highly recommend!
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
One of the things I liked about this story was how half the story (about Holly, a youngish mom of two boys who still misses her husband who died years ago, and who is struggling to make ends meet during the recession in the small but cozy town of Bertram Corners) centers on very current and easy-to-relate-to issues, and half the story (about Vivian, a 63-year-old woman who contracted polio at age 6 and has lived in an iron lung ever since) centers on interesting, sometimes terrifying issues that were prevalent in our nation's past (polio), and then how the story brings Vivian from that past into the current trends. It's quite well done, and I loved how Vivian copes and adapts to new technology and means of supporting herself sometimes better than other members of her community do. Vivian is whip-smart and efficient, but her story is moving and believable, because her personality isn't all sugar and spice. Her temper tantrums, a self-centered foray into alcohol exploration at the expense of a sweet friend, and other lippy moments provide a more real, in-depth look at her character.

The story is more character-driven than action-packed, but several things are still happening and moving at a fast enough pace that readers shouldn't be bored for a minute. A few of the highlights: Holly's mom loses her jewelry after suffering a stroke ... what's happened to it? Then there's Racine, the guy coming in from New York to open a cash-for-gold store which Vivian has invested in (and hired Holly, who also works for the community newspaper, to oversee Racine's operation). Is he really interested in Holly, who hasn't had a date since her husband died? Or is he a scam artist or a thief? What will Holly do when the newspaper is threatened because ad sales are down?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Without hardship there would be no happiness!
This is an inspiring story of making the most of what you have, and accepting people for what they are. Read more
Published 6 days ago by Teresa D Yardley
5.0 out of 5 stars Susan Schoenberger's attention to character identity is on full...
Susan Schoenberger's attention to character identity is on full display in this novel. She touches our hearts with her portraits of women living what life has given them.
Published 16 days ago by cheryl l. white
4.0 out of 5 stars The plot is somewhat predictable, but had enough twists ...
The plot is somewhat predictable, but had enough twists to keep me interested. I thought it was a little slow in the beginning, but that was just when developing the characters -... Read more
Published 20 days ago by Lorri Marie
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read!
Awesome book .. Amazing story of a woman living in a world I couldn't begin to imagine!
Published 21 days ago by klutzrob
2.0 out of 5 stars Plodded through really
The characters are shallow and the plot both predictable and not very believable. A romance novel like tale. Not painful to read, but not a pleasure either.
Published 23 days ago by Mildred Harrold
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
This is a great story about the ties of community and the perseverance of the human soul. It is uplifting without being maudlin. Read more
Published 23 days ago by houlihan
I connected with this story since I lived through that summer of the polio epidemic. Dr. Salk's vaccine seemed like a miracle back then. Read more
Published 24 days ago by Diane Walton
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Engaging from start to finish!
Published 24 days ago by Kelly Espinoza
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Enjoyed it - thought provoking. A good read.
Published 24 days ago by Nadine Fisher
5.0 out of 5 stars A quiet reminder
Virtues of Oxygen will be a jolting reminder to examine you current status in light of another's life. Highly recommend since each among us can contribute to another's life.
Published 26 days ago by Jan Reads and Crafts
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More About the Author

Susan Schoenberger, of West Hartford, CT, is a writer, editor and copy editor with a long history of working for news organizations, including The Baltimore Sun, The Hartford Courant, and She is now Director of Communications for Hartford Seminary. "A Watershed Year," her debut novel, won the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition in 2006 under the title "Intercession." Susan's short stories have been published in Inkwell, Village Rambler and on Susan's second novel, "The Virtues of Oxygen," was published in July 2014. For more information, please visit

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