An exercise physiologist and sport psychologist responds to his lifelong disease struggles with intense athleticism and risk-taking in this fictionalized biography.
Mark is 8 years old when he has his first surgery for neurogenic sarcoma, a type of cancer that produces recurring tumors throughout the body. His doctors tell him that the lump is “gone forever,” which is only the first of many medical failures in treating Mark’s rare disease. Hopeful and determined, Mark throws himself into physical activity, a pattern that persists throughout his life. Haunted by the constant specter of impending mortality, he cheats death over and over by pushing himself to feats of daring—jumping off a nine-story bridge, setting a scuba-diving record for time underwater, sky diving. When, at 65, he receives the dire diagnosis of innumerable tumors that finalizes his death sentence, he enters hospice care. There, he continues to insist on life and dignity through relentless physical exertion, timing his walks down the halls with his IV pole in tow. The novel recounts the life and experiences of Mark Crooks, a friend and mentor of Green’s (Questions of the Spirit, 2017, etc.). The author has created a memorable protagonist in Mark, driven and resolute yet deeply vulnerable. Mark’s obsession with his own physical fitness and his occasional disdain for those less disciplined make him somewhat unsympathetic at times. But the image of the 8-year-old Mark, “angry” and “lonely,” building himself up with barbells after his first surgery, gives insight into the development of his single-minded character. Also notable are the chapters like “Nemesis” that are written from the point of view of the cancer. While it is intriguing to see the protagonist’s perception of the disease, lines such as “I hate Mark, every fiber of his being…I loathe the life force bubbling through his arteries and veins and the meticulously complicated wiring of his muscles with nerves” seem a convoluted way to express his anger about his illness. But the book ends on a note of defiant joy followed by an afterword in which Green eloquently describes his relationship with the real Mark.
A study of one man’s determination to defeat fear, weakness, and cancer.