A cancer patient searches for direction and fulfillment in Jones’ (A Rising Tide of People Swept Away, 2016, etc.) novel.
In 2008, following a breast cancer diagnosis, Rebecca “Bec” Robertson undergoes a double mastectomy and begins aggressive chemotherapy. Her husband, William, is a chaplain in the U.S. Army serving in Afghanistan. Near the start of the novel, William boards a plane from Dallas to begin a journey back to Kabul, leaving his sick wife behind. As they part, there’s the sense that an emotional chasm is opening between them. Ever since Bec became ill, William has taken to treating her with excessive caution, and she senses his relief as they bid farewell to each other. Bec, meanwhile, feels a growing sense of detachment from him and a nagging suspicion that her recovery may be “Easier alone.” Furthermore, the couple is in dire financial straits; Bec chooses not to burden William with the knowledge that their money has “bled away” and that the bank is foreclosing on their house. Soon, she relocates to a cabin in New Mexico. There, she meets an oddball set of locals—the first of whom, Marcus, she finds sitting in her truck, expecting her to drive him somewhere. The narrative also looks back over Bec’s grueling childhood, her courtship with William when they were both teenagers, and her stoic efforts to carve out a life for herself after cancer—part of which may involve a relationship with an unpredictable former Marine named Michael.
Some readers may be unnerved by Jones’ unflinching descriptions of the physical realities of cancer treatment: “Tribal marks, two slices of purple thread ruled out in straight horizontal lines below her chest….At least they had left the muscles underneath, so she didn’t have craters.” These graphic revelations of the treatments’ brutal violence can be difficult to read; in Bec’s case, surgeons are said to have “Cut away hunks of her body to fend off death.” Along the way, Jones vividly captures the character’s sense of emotional torment: “Sometimes she wanted something to blame, someone to scream at.” In her struggle for survival, Bec lives on a razor’s edge, and Jones subtly charts her progress and psychological shifts—which, the author points out, are also affected by medication: “At first, the steroids drove her crazy and the anticoagulants left her so vulnerable she feared to touch anything. When her desire for intimacy returned, she couldn’t find William.” As the story progresses, readers will be drawn ever closer to Bec—they’ll gain a profound understanding of the challenges she faces and be awed by her spirit of survival. But there are also feelings of joy in this harrowing novel, as Bec’s newfound conception of self arises from her sense of loss and despair. Overall, this novel offers a nuanced and thoroughly believable portrait of a cancer patient’s everyday life that offers hope and sadness in equal measure.
A deeply affecting and fearlessly descriptive story that charts the complexities of life with a potentially fatal illness.