Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Alice & Oliver by Charles Bock

This book was interesting, but very depressing - all the more so because it is based on the real life experiences of the author's late wife.

When baby Doe is just a few months old her mother, Alice, takes ill and is diagnosed with fairly advanced cancer.  Most of the book deals with Alice's fight to survive - multiple hospitalizations, radiation, chemotherapy and eventually bone marrow transplants.  In addition to feeling her enormous physical pain, we see the emotional pain she endures; particularly protracted separations from her infant daughter as her immune system is not strong enough to withstand catching any germs a baby is likely to carry.  Apparently many of the hospital and treatment scenes are based on journal's kept by the author's wife as she underwent cancer treatment.

Certain chapters are written from the perspective of Alice's husband, Oliver.  We see how he struggles trying to be the primary caretaker for his wife and child while at the same time juggling the financial strain of Alice's treatments.  He expends much energy trying to ensure proper insurance coverage.  There are also weird interludes where Oliver visits with prostitutes - I suppose illustrating his desperate need for escape and companionship of some sort.

One of the nice aspects of the book is the support Alice and Oliver receive from Alice's mother and their various friends.  Alice's mother takes on care of the her granddaughter while her friends rotate shifts by her bedside to ensure her comfort and, at times, safety when nurses cannot constantly assist her in her weakened state.  Oliver's friends try to help keep his business afloat thus ensuring continuity of insurance coverage - however, by the end we feel they have not been as supportive as Alice's friends.

My biggest problem with the work is that it was somewhat weird in its writing style - it jumped around a lot and there were certain scenes that either didn't work for me or I simply didn't understand what they were getting at.

The final chapter is from the perspective of Doe many years later when she is a teenager.  It is in this way that we learn the outcome of the story - both what happened with respect to Alice's health and how Oliver and Doe came through it all.

In all it was an interesting book, but very depressing so make sure you are in the mood for that kind of story.  You also need to be prepared to ignore or skim over the weirder parts.

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