The Effects of Isolation on the Brain
a novel by Erika Rummel

Print: 978-1-77133-309-2
ePUB: 978-1-77133-310-8
PDF: 978-1-77133-312-2

136 Pages
September 28, 2016
New Fiction All Titles Novel Novella

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The Effects of Isolation on the Brain a novel by Erika Rummel

There are many forms of isolation, and Ellie is becoming an expert on them: unloved and ignored as a child in Vienna, up against cultural barriers in Canada, holed up in a cabin in the north. What are the effects of isolation on the brain? Is it loneliness and boredom that makes Ellie take risks and say yes to Vera, her glamorous but deeply disturbed friend? Vera has been abused as a child and is now putting her trust in a charlatan healer. Together they entangle Ellie in a murderous game of fantasy and revenge. Marooned on the shores of a frozen lake, Ellie must make her way out of the Canadian bush and the wilderness of her own soul. It is a journey through hostile territory— neglect, deceit, confusion, betrayal— but Ellie is a fighter. All she needs to survive is a soulmate. Don’t we all?

"From the chill of postwar Berlin to Ontario’s icy north, all is not as it seems in Erika Rummel’s fast-moving novel, where the dance of reality and role-play tease and intrigue the reader. It’s a book where sex, mayhem, and family secrets combine to make the pages turn almost by themselves."

—Carole Giangrande, author of Midsummer and Here Comes the Dreamer

"Take a few minutes from your busy day and find a quiet place to read Erika Rummel’s The Effects of Isolation on the Brain. You won’t regret it.”

—Lee Gowan, author of The Last Cowboy

The Effects of Isolation on the Brain

Erika Rummel has taught history at University of Toronto and Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo. She divides her time between Toronto and Los Angeles and has lived in villages in Argentina, Romania, and Bulgaria. The author of more than a dozen books of non-fiction, she has written extensively on social history. She is also the author of two novels, Playing Naomi</> and Head Games. She was awarded the Random House Creative Writing Award, 2011, for an excerpt of The Effects of Isolation on the Brain.

The Effects of Isolation on the Brain by Erika Rummel
reviewed by Prairie Fire Magazine - March 2, 2017
http://www.prairiefire.ca/the-effects-of-isolation-on-the-brain-by-erika-rummel/#more-3047

How does an emotionally deprived childhood affect one’s behaviour as an adult?To what extent does sexual abuse leave emotional scars? These are two issues addressed in this debut novella by Erika Rummel. Set in Ontario and in post World War II Vienna, the story is a suspenseful thriller about betrayal, loss, boredom and deceit in the lives of two female characters.

Ellie, the 21 year-old protagonist, left her homeland of Vienna in 1960 to study romantic poetry at the University of Toronto. The novella takes place over the course of seven weeks during the winter of 1961. Ellie has become involved in a murder and she has been hiding for a month at a remote cabin a few hours north of Toronto. Her friend Vera was supposed to drive her to the airport in Timmins, but hasn’t shown up. As Ellie’s anxiety continues to escalate, so does the reader’s curiosity at how Ellie ended up in this situation.

Written from Ellie’s point of view, the novella’s lean, succinct first-person narrative unfolds in twenty-one brief chapters. The story is structured as a memory that Ellie recalls while she waits for Vera at the cabin. The last two chapters propel the story forward from the point at which it left off in the first chapter.

The narrative hinges on Ellie and Vera’s evolving relationship and the neediness of both women. Naïve and insecure due to her bleak upbringing, Ellie is flattered by the attention of Vera—a beautiful, enigmatic Canadian woman fifteen years older. As Ellie describes their meeting, “Something wonderful had happened. Vera Katorski had stepped into my life and acknowledged my existence. She was like a sacrament, a soul-animating strain. Wordsworth.”

However, the unscrupulous Vera has her own demons; not only was she sexually abused by her adoptive father, but she also has serious mental health issues. As the friendship between the two women progresses, Ellie’s loyalty to Vera hijacks her judgment, resulting in some bad decisions.

Throughout the novella, Rummel convincingly delineates the source of Ellie’s vulnerability, pointing to boredom as a factor that she will do almost anything to avoid, even at the risk of offending her moral code. As Ellie states, “When you are bored, the call to action becomes irresistible. Any Call. You say yes even if you know it will get you into trouble. I’ve been groomed from childhood to say yes to action.”

Also noteworthy are the details from Ellie’s childhood in Vienna. These tidbits help to authenticate the post World War II atmosphere as observed by Ellie as a child. Especially revealing is the interpretation of her parents’ conversations about the war, for she doesn’t fully grasp the context. For example, “Forty-five came up a lot in people’s conversation. I thought of it as a magic number, a before and after number.”

In short, The Effect of Isolation on the Brain is a gripping, fact-paced story about an unusual relationship and set of circumstances. The book will undoubtedly appeal to readers who enjoy thrillers with a historical context.

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The Effects of Isolation on the Brain by Erika Rummel
reviewed by The Miramichi Reader - October 19, 2016
http://miramichireader.ca/2016/10/effects-isolation-brain/

Don't let the title mislead you; this is not a book about the results of a psychology experiment, it is a novel about a woman who uses that excuse to explain away her presence in a cabin in a remote northern Ontario town in the dead of winter, should anyone ask. Ellie Kruezweg describes her situation in the opening pages:

It’s the middle of November, and I’m bored out of my mind. The ground is covered
with an inch of snow. The lake has a glassy-looking crust of ice. It’s no longer navigable.
No getting away by boat now. The cottagers have gone home. They’ve switched off the
power drained the toilets, pulled up the dry docks, and put their boats into storage.
I’m cut off from the rest of the world unless I want to walk out to Logham, “home to
the world’s largest white-tailed deer herd” according to the tourist brochure. It would
mean slogging through the bush for thirty miles.

Into the arms of the waiting cops.

How Ellen (Ellie) Kreuzweg started out in post-war Vienna and ended up in this situation in northern Ontario years later makes for an interesting and readable story in The Effects of Isolation on the Brain by Erika Rummel (2016, Inanna Publications).

Ellen, the daughter of a father who deserted the German Army in WWII (and who would later desert Ellen) and an incapacitated mother that only Freud could explain away, has known isolation most of her life. It is Vera Katorski, whom Ellie meets in Vienna (and with whom her father deserts her mother for) that changes Ellie's life. Vera shows an interest in Ellie and eventually, all three end up in Canada. Ellie's father, who soon leaves Vera after a 'knife incident' warns Ellie to not get sucked into Vera's life:

"Vera is corrosive. She gets under your skin. She doesn't consider her actions. She has no scruples. She does what comes into her head."

All too soon, Vera has Ellie role-playing her aunt who allowed her husband to molest Vera as a child. The role of her Uncle is played by the malevolent Robbie, a man whom Vera has hired as a property manager, but is also an armchair psychiatrist eager to try different scenarios out to 'help' Vera overcome her repressed memories. This ultimately leads to Ellie being holed up in Vera's cabin in wintertime. There are some tense and frightening moments, such as when some teenage boys, thinking the cabin is boarded up for the winter, break in looking for liquor. What will Ellie do?

I rated The Effects of Isolation on the Brain 3/5 stars on Goodreads. I liked the story and I read it in an afternoon while on vacation.I particularly liked how Ms Rummel cleverly inserted small excerpts from authors and poets such as Byron, Coleridge, Keats and others. Ellie writes her story in diary-like fashion since she has little else to do in the cabin.

"So I write. Out of boredom, or maybe from a need to confess, or because the criminal in his lonely hour gives to his eyes a magnifying power. (Coleridge)"

As author Lee Gowan is quoted as saying on the back cover:

"Take a few minutes from your busy day and find a quiet place to read Erika Rummel’s The Effects of Isolation on the Brain. You won’t regret it.”

Very true, I didn't regret it for the story held my interest to see what exactly would happen to Ellie. Would Vera come to her rescue as promised? How would she avoid arrest for a crime she thinks she and Vera committed? Put The Effects of Isolation on the Brain on your 'to read' list for the coming year.

Erika Rummel has taught history at University of Toronto and Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo. She divides her time between Toronto and Los Angeles and has lived in villages in Argentina, Romania, and Bulgaria. The author of more than a dozen books of non-fiction, she has written extensively on social history. She is also the author of two novels, Playing Naomi and Head Games. She was awarded the Random House Creative Writing Award, 2011, for an excerpt of The Effects of Isolation on the Brain.

     I’m holed up here in the “Near North” — tourist speak for a place that’s unbearable
for nine months out of twelve. Right now, the cold is stinging my nostrils and bating
my breath. In the spring, the blackflies — but never mind the blackflies, I’ll be gone
by then. It’s all arranged. Vera will pick me up and take me across the lake. “Don’t
worry, Ellie,” she said. “Don’t worry about a thing.”
     Vera’s car will be waiting at the marina. We’ll drive away, through blighted mining
towns, past houses with car wrecks in the driveway and old beer fridges on the porch,
speeding up as we reach the open highway, going past tar-papered shacks and wretched
diners. No time for regrets until we reach the airfield at Timmins and say good-bye.
It’ll be quick. They don’t ask a lot of questions in Timmins. It’s bush pilot country.
     Vera said she’d pick me up, but I’m still here. Maybe she has changed her mind
and doesn’t want me to get away. Maybe she’s praying for a snowstorm to take out
the power lines, hoping I’ll freeze to death. I depend on baseboard heaters to keep
me warm. There’s a fieldstone fireplace as well, but it hasn’t been used “in donkeys’
years,” Vera said. The flue is plugged with soot. “Don’t try to light a fire, Ellie,” she
said. “You’ll die of carbon monoxide poisoning.”
     It’s the middle of November, and I’m bored out of my mind. The ground is covered
with an inch of snow. The lake has a glassy-looking crust of ice. It’s no longer navigable.
No getting away by boat now. The cottagers have gone home. They’ve switched off the
power, drained the toilets, pulled up the dry docks, and put their boats into storage.
I’m cut off from the rest of the world unless I want to walk out to Logham, “home to
the world’s largest white-tailed deer herd” according to the tourist brochure. It would
mean slogging through the bush for thirty miles. Into the arms of the waiting cops.
No way. I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to run the risk. The bush in back of the cabin
is impenetrable, a tangled mess of underbrush, a cat’s cradle of rotten tree trunks and
bogs where the beavers have been at work. A short month ago it smelled musky, and
a gamy heat rose from the ground. Now the cold has dried up every scent. My hiking
boots, it turns out, aren’t really water-proof, and the rubber boots aren’t warm enough,
even if I wear two pairs of socks. So I don’t go outside much. I stay in the cabin and
think about this country, Canada, but nothing profound like: How did I end up here?
What is the essential national characteristic of Canadians? No, more like: why can’t
they come up with decent lyrics for their national anthem? The same words over and
over. We stand on guard for thee. We stand on guard for thee. We stand on guard for
thee. Just thinking about that bloody anthem makes me die of boredom.

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