TIME ON FIRE by Evan Handler


My Comedy of Terrors
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 Brutally frank and blisteringly angry, Handler's story, adapted from his off-Broadway show, is also the funniest, most enjoyable account of a battle with cancer you'll ever read. A New York actor, 24-year-old Handler was about to set out on a 1985 tour of Biloxi Blues, was slated to make a film in Israel, and was up for a part in a Dustin Hoffman film. ``OK,'' he writes, ``so it turned out to be Ishtar. It still would have been better than what I was facing.'' What he was facing was a four-year ordeal with acute myelogenous leukemia. In shock but not feeling particularly ill, he checked into Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for the first of three rounds of chemotherapy. He bridled at the paperwork, the endless tests and waiting, and the often abrupt manner of the nurses and technicians: ``I mean, John Wayne had cancer. Did he put up with this?'' His detailed descriptions of the horrors of chemotherapy treatment and the excruciating procedure of bone marrow aspiration would be unbearable reading if they were not balanced by Handler's wit in passages such as the one describing ``hospital sex'' with his girlfriend. Partly to counter the negative attitude of his doctors, Handler began to practice ``a kind of `opportunistic optimism,' '' utilizing meditation and visualization that, he believes, enhanced his ability to affect the outcome of his treatment. He learned to aggressively and effectively get around hospital bureaucracy and ingrained pessimism. He later had a successful bone-marrow transplant and notes that he now has a ``perfectly normal immune function . . . for a seven year old child.'' He is highly susceptible to colds and infections, but the ``chances of recurrence [of the cancer] are slim. Minuscule.'' Painfully funny, remarkably open and life-affirming, Handler's account is as valuable as Norman Cousins's Anatomy of an Illness and as wonderfully literate as Anatole Broyard's Intoxicated by My Illness.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-316-34409-5
Page count: 286pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1995


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