A SEASON IN HELL by Marilyn French


A Memoir
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A graceful, uncompromising account of French’s diagnosis of, treatment for, and survival of esophageal cancer. From the moment she felt her first symptoms under a warm Florida sun, the politically savvy, intellectual, and defiantly feminist author of The Women’s Room (1977), Our Father (1994), and The War Against Women (1992) knew she was in trouble. Despite her doctor’s attempts to placate her, she was convinced that she had cancer. No one else was: as French quickly realized, doctors routinely discount their patients’ own self-knowledge. Only as her tumor metastasized, spreading from her esophagus to her lymph nodes, was her hunch confirmed. And with her diagnosis, French began an ordeal she barely survived. The title of her memoir refers as much to her experience with the medical establishment as it does to Rimbaud’s poem of the same title. For the curious, demanding writer was exactly the kind of patient whom doctors abhor. The drama she relates is terrible in its familiarity, yet French makes it new, infusing her story with love, humor, and outrage. In one memorable instance, a supercilious doctor barely involved with her case appeared before her adult children and “loudly announced that I had stopped breathing during the night, that the cancer had spread to the brain stem, and that I was dead.” This wasn—t so; French was very much alive. At times, her narrative slows with the inclusion of one too many famous names (including such well-known figures as Gloria Steinem and TV anchorwoman Carol Jenkins). Still, the tale smoothly combines personal testimony and political ire. Only in the book’s last chapters, devoted to the excruciatingly painful and slow process of her recovery, does French get lost in the minutiae of illness. A rousing condemnation of medical ignorance and sexism, revealed in the story of a woman’s struggle to live.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-45509-4
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1998


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