Novelist Burgess (Exposures, 2005, etc.) expressively and excruciatingly chronicles her emotional struggle when cancer afflicts her husband.
It may seem odd that nearly every scene is infused with aromas, plant life, outdoor atmospherics, colors, food and wine, but this approach is appropriate: From the moment Burgess met and fell in love with Ken Grunzweig in 1988, it was apparent that their shared appreciation of the sensuous pleasures of being human was a central element in their bond. She was 31, really in love for the first time; he was 44 and had endured the gruesome deaths of two wives. Despite these traumas, Ken remained an unusually self-aware, evolved, giving man. The couple continued in thrall to each other as they raised two kids, first in the San Francisco Bay area and then in Spokane, Wash. Fourteen years into their joyful marriage, cancer struck Ken. Narrating the subsequent barrage of medical treatments and uncertainty, Burgess lyrically and perceptively explores how the body, emotions and experiences are connected, how love and misfortune affect that landscape. The author’s strained relationship with her mother, and Ken’s with his adult daughter, further illuminate these inquiries. Describing chemotherapy medicines as “priceless bags of chemical hope” may seem excessive, but Burgess’s romantic prose only rarely seems overwritten. In the context of her attempts to unearth understanding from such a devastating event, the gush of feeling tugs the reader along on a difficult ride during which insight is the only comfort and stabbing inevitability underlies every embrace and home-cooked meal. Burgess self-identifies as a proponent of science over religion, but there is a generous helping of “Spiritual Lite” (the title of one chapter), including a vision of the dead. These forays into the mystical do not go unexamined; the author examines how the idea of “God” helps her and Ken to confront his illness.
Wrenchingly painful, but intensely affecting.