SAILING by Susan Kenney


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Kenney's Another Country (1984) was a remarkably nervy, elliptical book of disaster, focusing on mortal illness yet coming so slam-bang at the reader that it achieved levels of comedy as well as remarkably lifelike pain. Again, very riskily, she's written a much longer novel about the same thing--cancer--and the same people--Phil and Sara Boyd--and has run puckish changes, improvisations, on the earlier book. Now a thematic counterpoint has been added: sailing, the boat and sea to which Phil retreats as his rare cancer overtakes him after a six-year battle. Phil's bravery and Sara's, their different emotional pitches, their fear at different levels at different times--Kenney uses the sailing fulcrum to differentiate as much as meld here. But in expanding the story, she's added another character, which is the illness itself, and this is what transforms the book into the most frightening, true-feeling chronicle of bodily catastrophe--the different doctors, the treatments, the sounds, the feelings, the relentless bad news: it leaves you shaken. Kenney is unnecessarily obsessive about squaring certain circles (repetitive sections where Phil's neatness is countered by Sara's messiness, etc.); and the sailing portions, while nicely written, seem too much the obvious counterpoint. But the book has punch and terror behind it, and they are what finally out.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1988
Publisher: Viking