Here’s the gist: Four months after he gets married, a nice Jewish boy in New York receives a diagnosis of thyroid cancer — but it’s the GOOD kind, the kind that can be cured. Cancer has a good kind? Who knew. But don’t get too happy. He has surgery to remove it, but the fates are not with him. The surgeon informs him on his follow-up visit that it turns out NOT to be the good kind of cancer, but a very BAD kind of cancer. The kind that CAN’T be cured. Oy vey. His new bride, doing the only thing she can think of to support him,, tries to put him on a vegan diet and stocks up on alternative health supplements in a possibly misguided effort to ramp up his immune system. And for which he deeply resents her. This brings to mind that old saying, “Nobody is loved the way they want to be loved.”
His shiny new marriage disintegrates, and his self-centered dad who is more interested in his own divorced dating life than in helping his son, takes him to a seedy Catskills Jewish resort for a singles weekend. Dad hits a homerun during the weekend, but our protagonist, deep in his new black goth fashion style, holes up in his room. The two argue over music choices, with dad, natch preferring ‘old fart music’ and our boy preferring heavy metal. On the way home, stuck in a surreal unmoving traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge, they continue to argue over their music preferences, and in a fit of pique, dad tosses his son’s heavy metal CD up, up and away, where it improbably lands on a railing of the bridge catwalk. Our boy jumps out of the car to retrieve it. We forgive him this adolescent move (he’s thirty something) because he’s got incurable cancer, for cripe’s sake, where’s your compassion? and watch horrified as he climbs over the railing in a precarious position to grab his CD. Dad, seeing the nightmare unfolding, rushes to help his son, inadvertently pushing said son over the edge, in a free fall to the drink below.
Makes ya stop and think, don’t it.
The blub says In the darkly comedic tradition of Philip Roth and Lorrie Moore comes a new novel from author David Kalish, who draws us into a hilarious, off-kilter world. Well, I’ve never liked Philip Roth all that much, not being into self-absorbed ruminations of a self-deprecating nature, pace Woody Allen, and now I was interested in seeing just where an author can go with cancer jokes. The blurb notwithstanding, I found it not at all hilarious. I did not LOL. There were no cancer jokes, just likable people in pain struggling to get their feet under them in a world suddenly turned upside down for them. I found it a beautiful, compelling and wistful examination of our expectations and relationships, all wrapped up in a story about a guy with essentially no life expectancy, trying in a quirky off-beat way, to change his remaining lifespan by doing everything the opposite of the way he has always done things. I loved that. I loved that he wasn’t trying to miraculously cure his disease by some magical means, but was trying to redo his life. He believes that
sometimes you need to do the opposite of the expected, do the opposite of the opposite, which is actually the same.
Yeah. Sometimes you do.
So does our boy end up in the river? Does his cancer go into remission? Does he get a call from the oncologist saying it was all a mistake? Does he make up with his father? His mother? Does he find true love?
You people keep expecting me to tell you the whole story so you don’t have to read it yourselves. Pfffft. Go read it, you’ll plotz. Really. You’ll love it.
Here’s some links to his stuff.