A memoir of sisterly conflict and forgiveness, framed by the challenges of terminal illness.
In this debut, Kaplan passes along the hard-won wisdom of her deceased sister and brother-in-law, who both succumbed to cancer after years of being caregivers for each other. On its surface, this is a family memoir, detailing the unbreakable bonds and fierce rivalries of the author and her sister, Lois. Kaplan offers occasional snippets of telling dialogue and evocative imagery but relies mostly on description rather than action; of her conflicted relationship with Lois, for example, she writes: “Lois, my blood, and Lois, my betrayer—connection and pain.” She outlines her relationship with her sister and the rest of their family over many years, touching on a series of fights, reconciliations and toxic boyfriends. The book shines, however, in the middle sections, which focus on Lois’ and her husband Dave’s repeated cancer diagnoses and the coping mechanisms that they developed. They viewed their experiences with cancer as “destiny playing out,” and Kaplan’s analysis of their surprises and joys is a refreshingly honest examination of death and of our culture’s treatment of it. In one of several insightful passages, she writes: “Loss was the opposite of something to get past; it became the ultimate transformational opportunity.” Sometimes, however, the book reads a bit too much like a transcript of a therapy session: “I found myself more alone than ever and realized how much I’d needed my dad as a little girl.” It’s also overlong and often plagued by extraneous detail; a final section on the author’s decision to write the book, for example, feels particularly tacked-on. Still, when the memoir narrows its focus to the interwoven forces of love and death, it offers readers a powerfully hopeful perspective.
A lively, often insightful exploration of the many roles that death can play in life.