The ultimate double whammy—unemployment and cancer—upends a staid life in Albert’s searching memoir.
The author, a psychiatrist, was a medical director at an insurance company, a safe, comfortable career that seemed to have been preordained from childhood. Then he learned that his branch office was closing, leaving him without a job at 60; a few months later, doctors told him he had lymphoma. Albert felt betrayed by a company he had admired—and by the body that he had meticulously cared for with fastidious diets and running marathons. But he was also forced to confront himself: after a life spent picking between good and better options, he now had to face hard choices that made him wonder who he was and what he wanted. The author’s very personal yet iconic memoir opens a window onto two of modern life’s uglier ordeals. As he wrestles with guilt over the impending layoff of his staff, whom he keeps in the dark, per company orders, while busying them with meaningless projects, Albert offers a well-observed, wised-up account of downsizing in a corporate world that seems callously indifferent to the fate of its employees and to its own trumpeted standards of customer service. His battle with cancer is a similarly vivid odyssey through the horrors of high-tech medicine: the painful, humiliating tests; the labyrinthine billing statements that baffle even an insurance executive like him; the horrific side effects of chemotherapy drugs, caustic poisons that doctors hope will kill the cancer cells before they kill him. Albert tells this story with a mordant wit—“I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I want my doctor to ever say, ‘Wow!’ ”—and an engaging, psychologically rich prose style that’s by turns poignant, kvetchy and flat-out scared. The result is an acute portrait of the patient’s curse of forced helplessness—and its remedy in humor and perseverance.
A compelling account of a dark passage toward an uncertain future.