The children’s book author shows masterful control in this memoir of a life careening beyond his control.
This is a sequel of sorts to Crawling: A Father’s First Year (2006), but it’s also a very different book. As Cooper writes of that book, “it’s short and upbeat, though there’s one sentence about not wanting to become the parent of a child with cancer that makes me suck in my breath.” In this short memoir, the author has become exactly what he didn’t want to be in that throwaway line. It starts with a “bump” on the first page, which Cooper happens to feel when his 4-year-old daughter is sitting on her father’s lap watching the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Two pages later, the bump that he might have been tempted to dismiss has been diagnosed as “a pediatric kidney cancer called Wilms’ tumor, a ‘good cancer,’ a funny pairing of words.” Two pages later, it is “stage three, which is not good.” Before the end of this chapter, the author has begun to “wonder if there are elements of this story that may get away from me.” He is right to wonder, for under this illusion of stylistic control lies a cauldron of powerful emotion that can erupt at any moment. And it does, to the author’s surprise at his own anger, which embarrasses him a little in retrospect and surprises readers, because the prose is so measured. But this is a book in which the subtlety of surface control sustains an exquisite tension with the turmoil beneath, as the author finds others “looking at a man who is a little unhinged.” His daughter is fine, for now, after surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and periodic scans. The changes in her are mainly the ones any girl might experience from the ages of 4 to 8. But her father is transformed into a writer who must leave “an angry island” and reconcile the world’s horrors with its ineffable beauty.
A profoundly moving memoir.