Alice & Oliver by Charles Bock
During my two-year clinical chaplain residency, I was assigned to the unit of the hospital that houses patients with multiple myeloma, leukemia and lymphoma; it's not an easy gig. I'd all but convinced Jonathan that "everyone is going to have cancer. Everyone. We're all going to have it and it's going to be horrible."
Thankfully, not everyone has cancer and not everyone who has cancer experiences what many patients with these specific types of cancer have to endure; it was a fantastic learning experience and, having spent some time in my own prison, it was extremely easy for me to relate to patients who were feeling helpless, a loss of control, and stuck in a place they'd rather not be in for long periods of time.
I was intrigued by this novel due to these experiences; I had no idea that it would be like reading a case study. The author's descriptions were so vivid, so accurate, that I had to stop and do some research; turns out, he wrote the novel based on the experience of his late wife, during her battle with leukemia. She kept journals of her illness and, while certainly the characters of Alice and Oliver are fictionalized and much different than Bock and his wife, there are elements of truth.
This is certainly not an easy read; I've read a few notable reviews that criticize the underdevelopment of the characters or the choppiness of the story line. To me, this is an excellent metaphor for life within an illness of this nature; it can only be described as chaotic and haphazard. Each character, for his or her own personal reasons, is barely hanging on; the disease ignores no one in its path.
The fact that Bock was able to write this is nothing short of phenomenal; it will be immensely helpful to those who have gone through, or experienced peripherally, this type of illness. It reminded me of the way in which individuals must re-frame their perspective in the face of a devastating diagnosis. The story is heartbreakingly beautiful and, while the subject matter may not be pleasant, there is a sense of peace that emerges as it comes to a close.