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Helen Keller Really Lived

A Novel

Elisabeth Sheffield

Publication Year: 2014

What does it mean to really live? Or not?
 
Set in eastern, upstate New York, Helen Keller Really Lived features a fortyish former barfly and grifter who must make a living in the wake of her wealthy husband’s death, and who finds work in a clinic helping women seeking reproductive assistance. The other main character is the grifter’s dead ex-husband, a Ukrainian hooker-to-healer success story, who prior to his demise was a gynecologist and after, an amateur folklorist, or ghostlorist, who collected and provided scholarly commentary on the stories of his fellow “revenants.”
 
Their intertwined stories explore the mistakes, miscarriages, inadequacies, and defeats that may have led to their divorce, including his failure (according to her) to “fully live.”
 
As it investigates the theme of what it means to “really live” or not, Elisabeth Sheffield’s brilliant new novel is also an exploration of virtual reality in the sense of the experience provided by literature. It is a novel awash in a multitude of voices, from the obscenity-laced, Nabokovian soliloquys of the dead Ukrainian doctor, to the trade-school / midcentury-romance-novel-constrained style of his dead mother-in-law.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication, Quotes

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"Give me back my body, give me back my body."

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pp. 1-4

Give me back my body, give me back my body. Really, I’m not joking, lyubov moya. Give me back my body right now. Or else. If you don’t give me back my body, I’m gonna come and take something of yours, something you’ll miss, missy. Like...

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Chapter One. “The Truth Sounds Like A Fiction That Can And Will Be Used Against You”

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pp. 5-30

This story, which is not a story but more of a memoir recounting actual events, is being written against legal counsel. According to Caroline Rose-Hickman, Attorney at Law, trauma...

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"On average, the limits of a ghost’s rationality are very narrow ..."

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pp. 31-32

On average, the limits of a ghost’s rationality are very narrow— no good, therefore, to explain to these astral bolváns that their bodies are non-returnable. Like toddlers and cretins, they just won’t accept basic physical principles, like entropy, heat...

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File 2010/Transcription of Revenant Dictation (Former Sex: Female; Deceased 15.11.2010)

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pp. 33-44

i live in a hole but i used to live in a house. i used to live in a house with a man. my husband, i called him. also mark. mark, i’d say, you’re going to have to start treating me better. mark my words. but he didn’t listen. he’d just keep on reading his...

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Chapter Two. “Kick Me”

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pp. 45-62

According to Winona Irving, M.S.W., the act of telling a story can alter the abnormal processing of a traumatic memory. Transformation of the traumatic memory can in turn bring the relief of many major...

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"Yeah, it’s the life of the mind for me now, baby."

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pp. 63-80

Yeah, it’s the life of the mind for me now, baby. But that wasn’t always the case, and I’ll be the first to admit it. I thought I needed the big country house and library with the wingback chairs for fireside chatting and all that highbrow crap first...

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Chapter Three. “Helen Keller Really Lived”

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pp. 81-90

Even though Selina always scored the highest on both the verbal and math sections of the Iowa test, their mother decided that Selina’s sister was “the verbal one” and her brother “the math and science one.” Cara was “the verbal one”...

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File 1994/Transcription of Revenant Dictation (Former Sex: Male; Deceased: 22.07.1995)

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pp. 91-100

Nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensu—There is nothing in the mind that was not in the senses. Yes, I’ve got it all up here, Tim. Or somewhere. Hard to say, my boy, hard to say. At any rate, wherever “I” am now, in whatever form (the ideal...

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Chapter Four. “A Reason to Fight”

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pp. 101-110

Selina’s ex-husband was lucky he had a stroke and died. Timor might have ended up in prison because tapping phones (which includes cell phones) is a federal crime. Although not many people believe tapping cell phones is possible, which meant that it was difficult...

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"I see you’ve just decided to ignore my e-mails, króshka."

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pp. 111-114

I see you’ve just decided to ignore my e-mails, króshka. Ouch. I mean if I had any nerve cells, this would be a fucking prick. The kind you make with a pin, that is—not the kind you accused me of being every time you didn’t get your way. Then...

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Chapter Five. “You See Connections and Patterns Where there are None”

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pp. 115-136

When you choose an IVF program, it is important to consider success rates as reported to SART, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies. Success rates are based upon the ratio of treatment cycles to...

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"Remember the winter I quote unqote dragged you to the ..."

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pp. 137-140

Remember the winter I quote unqote dragged you to the Caymans, how on our return a security hound smelled someone else’s coke on our cash? Sweet doggerina, you were always good at sniffing out secrets—just not so great at pinpointing...

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File 1993: Transcription of Revenant Composition (Former Sex: Female; Deceased: 31.12.1993)

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pp. 141-146

It was a Friday afternoon at the big, sunny Manhattan law firm. “In just another half hour,” Kate LaLane mused, the while her slender fingers flew over the keys of her typewriter, “in just twenty-nine more minutes, the five o’clock bell will ring and I...

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"Here’s a story, détka"

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pp. 147-158

Here’s a story, détka: Halloween 1978, and I was on the southbound platform of the Metro into Manhattan. Tipping my hat to the holiday as well as my new, pending nationality (a green card was a coming), I’d gotten myself up in cowboy getup—a pair of chaps from the secret costume box in the...

File 1984/Three Revenant Compositions (Former Sex: Male; Deceased: 13.05.1984)

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pp. 159-160

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Chapter Six. “The First Cut is the Deepest”

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pp. 161-182

When a person is forced to live by her wits, she becomes very perceptive about other people. She becomes very perceptive about other people, even if it turns out there is nothing to perceive: a month went by and...

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"E12.03.11: There will be two of us and we will be graded."

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pp. 183-186

E12.03.11: There will be two of us and we will be graded. She will be an A. I will be a B . I will be a B because on day three my eight blastomeres will be very slightly but visibly less spherical and uniform in size than hers. Also, there will be a smal...

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"I’d say I have too much time on my hands, if I had them."

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pp. 187-200

I’d say I have too much time on my hands, if I had them. Which doesn’t mean I’ve been jacking off. For one, I can’t. For another, my new hobby is not just a hobby, but a scholarly enterprise as I boldly go where no academic has gone before, collecting cultural artifacts from the other side. Publication could be a...

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"E08.07.11: On December 25, 2021, I will be given a palm-sized ..."

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pp. 201-210

E08.07.11: On December 25, 2021, I will be given a palm-sized codex with a fur cover that will look like zebra skin. But not to worry, my mother will say, it is kanecaron fiber. The codex will have a little flap with a metal lock and little key to keep the lock...

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Chapter Seven. “Rabbits Are Smarter Than People Think”

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pp. 211-230

Three days after the silver haired but smooth faced embryologist made her proposition, the bank became the owner of Selina Van Staal’s house. Actually, the bank had owned the house from the get go since...

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"I’m on to you, my Sneekalinka."

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pp. 231-246

I’m on to you, my Sneekalinka. I know you’ve been reading my messages even as you do no more than glance at your laptop screen, as if at a night darkened pane. You can’t pretend I don’t exist (even if I don’t). I know you’ve been reading my messages because “who put a kopek in you?” Admit that...

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File 2011/Electronic Copy of Revenant Composition, “The Ghost Writer,” in Word DOCX (Former Sex: Female; Deceased: circa 2011)

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pp. 247-262

The word “ghost” derives from the Anglo-Saxon gast, for breath or spirit. So to “give up the ghost” is to die. At the same time, in being relinquished by the body, the ghost escapes the confines of mortality: it lives on. The ghost “lives on” because, as...

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Chapter Eight. “Life is Not a Lab”

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pp. 263-282

Only once as an adult had Selina Van Staal spent a prolonged period of time with a member of her own sex. Okay there was a female roommate or two. However the arrangement was always for convenience not company, a mutual place to crash or whatnot...

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"'Pay attention to body language although if you do not ... '"

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pp. 283-284

“Pay attention to body language although if you do not know what a gesture means it might as well be written in Cyrillic.” Selinka, this is too much: you won’t admit that you’ve been reading my messages, even as you flaunt your intimacy...

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Chapter Nine. “Not Okay”

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pp. 285-318

The morning after the night in Albany, Selina awoke, alone, in a room at the Ramada Plaza Inn. The date was the October 16, 2010, a turning point but unfortunately no turn was made. A note rested on the red-quilted...

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"Where do I start, détka?"

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pp. 319-360

Where do I start, détka? How do I begin to pick apart the garbage that you write? And to what purpose? To uncover some measly morsel of love beneath the mountain of crapola? Some scrap of affection that we both know is only fiscal regret? Why...

File 2008/Revenant Provided PDF (Former Sex: Male; Deceased: circa 2008?)

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pp. 361-364

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Chapter Ten. “The Intelligence of Absence”

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pp. 365-408

Most crimes have motives. But not always. Sometimes people commit crimes just to be mean. Sometimes people commit crimes just to be mean even though the experts would not agree. They say that the seeds for mean, seemingly...

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"So this is what it comes too."

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pp. 409-412

So this is what it comes too. Menjá nadúli. Literally, you conned me, you filled me with air. But you know that. Literally. It is in the ten pages of “Russian slang and colloquialisms,” that you cribbed from http://everything2.com. Ten pages of virile mat thrashed into Roman serfage, because Cyrillic is...

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"E01.06.11: I will be born at the end of twenty-eight weeks of ..."

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pp. 413-416

E01.06.11: I will be born at the end of twenty-eight weeks of gestation, my twin having died in utero. Quick as a cat can wink an eye, I will be whisked off to the NICU. She will call me Kitten and cradle me for hours everyday, while I am fed through...

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Acknowledgments

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I would like to thank the following persons, both the extant and the deceased, for their lore: Patricia Ackerman, Emmanuel David, Theresa Coleman Delp, Samuel Dean Delp, Gordon Delp, Sue and Warren Delp, Rochanya Generous, Patrick...


E-ISBN-13: 9781573668484
E-ISBN-10: 1573668486
Print-ISBN-13: 9781573661812
Print-ISBN-10: 1573661813

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Divorced women -- Fiction.
  • Self-realization -- Fiction.
  • Ghost stories. -- gsafd.
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