In Contemplation of the Art and Act of Suicide – A Review

SHORT STORY | FICTION | LITERATURE
A NOTE by John Northcutt Young
RATING: ★ ★ ★

 

Some people should die
That’s just unconscious knowledge

– Jane’s Addiction

 

A Note by John Northcutt Young

It is hard for me to imagine anyone past the age of puberty who has not contemplated suicide. I don’t mean actually contemplating committing suicide — although less hard, it is still kind of hard for me to imagine anyone who has lived a life of even the most minimal engagement to have not had at least one life crisis serious enough to trigger contemplation of even this most extreme act — but just suicide in general. If, hypothetically speaking, one were going to commit suicide, what would be the best way to perform the act? That is what I mean by contemplating suicide. Contemplating the art of suicide, so to speak.

And, with his short story A NOTE, that is exactly what author John Northcutt Young does. He forces us to contemplate suicide, and in a most uncomfortable and burdensome manner, by taking us deep into the mind of someone preparing himself for the final act of committing suicide.

And he does this, not just by forcing us into the mind of the narrator as a casual observer, he shoves us directly into the story itself, as a participating character, by having us assume the most unpleasant role of “Whomever,” the unknown recipient to whom the narrator of the story is addressing his suicide note, a note that he is just beginning to pen when the story itself begins.

But we quickly learn that it is not going to be an easy note to write. And this is not just because of the obvious reasons. Penning one’s final farewell message must surely be difficult for even the most accomplished in life. Right now you may be thinking that that last sentence is ridiculous. If one is so accomplished in life then there would be no reason for one to even contemplate suicide, let alone actually commit it. My response to that is, the statement may be highly ironic perhaps, but ridiculous, certainly not. All we have to do is take even the most cursory of glances at recent headlines to see that yes, indeed, even the most accomplished — and I almost want say here, especially the most accomplished — find cause to put a suicidal end their living existence.

However, with this story, we find that the one penning the note is far from having led an accomplished life; in fact, as he sees it, he has led, perhaps, a life the least accomplished of all. And if it holds true that penning a suicide note would prove difficult for the most accomplished, we are about to find out just how exceedingly difficult it is for the least.

By his own account the narrator is a loser. He is unaccomplished at everything, especially his life goal, a life-long ambition to be a successful writer. Or is it an author. He is not sure which he should call himself. This indecision is typical, endemic even, of his character. We learn in the most repetitive, and somewhat distracting, way that the narrator has difficulty making even the most mundane of decisions, and those decisions that he does make, ultimately end in failure.

But his biggest failure, and even bigger regret, is that of failing as a writer. And here is where I have the biggest breakdown with the story.

The story is narrated in a near stream of consciousness voice. The narrator, finally having made the decision to end his life, is now free from having to worry about all the grammar and linguistic challenges writing entails. This freedom also seems to have impacted negatively the way his internal voice, his stream of consciousness voice, is spoken. The voice of the narrator sounds overly immature and whiny, which may be excused considering what he has put himself on the path to do, but this voice doesn’t speak true to me. I cannot imagine that anyone as close to committing suicide as our narrator is, would sound so petty and immature.

Near the end we learn that his suicide note is soggy from his tears. However, up to that point, I never felt once that the narrator had shed even the slightest tear. It was, unfortunately, one rather long, annoying whine, poor grammar and all.

But what does a critique like that mean really? My answer is, nothing.

How could I possibly know how others would speak to themselves internally, and not just for something as terrifying and dramatic as the internal processing of the final movement toward ending one’s life, but for anything, really? I can’t. The only voice I can ever know, the only voice I can ever truly critique, is the sound of my own voice. And I hope I never have to hear what it would sound like during such a heartbreaking situation as the narrator is experiencing.

My problem with the narrator’s voice and the negative impact I find that it has on the overall tone and success of the story, has to be more my problem, a problem of taste, and not the story’s.

Overall, and most importantly, the story works in achieving what is perhaps its truest and biggest mission, and that, to me is, the act of awareness. Whether we like the story or not, by its end we definitely become more aware, through Young’s insistence on forcing us into a deep, uncomfortable contemplative mind journey, of what it just may be like for one poor, desperate soul of a loser as he prepares himself for what perhaps is his final act alive.

And that, to me, is something worthy of serious and deep contemplation.

~~~~

Rating System:
★ = Unreadable
★ ★ = Poor Read
★ ★ ★ = Average Read
★ ★ ★ ★ = Outstanding Read
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ = Exceptional Read
Advertisements

The way forward for our little “Indie Author Book Selection & Review” flash of a grassroots response thing we got going here…

I guess there is something to be said for operating on leftover pizza highs…

First off, I believe both a sincere thank you and a hearty congratulations are in order.

We’ve had quite the response to the “Hey Author, what’s your book about?” post from a few days back.

And for that, I say, from the bottom of my heart to the tips of my inked and computer key calloused fingers, Thank you all very much.

To date, fourteen awesome Authors have submitted their books for consideration. (And there is still two days left until submissions will be closed so if you’re considering it even a little bit, times running out so let’s chop chop to it, okay Authors), sixteen votes have been cast for favorite Authors, and 108 Readers have given a thumbs up of “Like” for the overall concept of this grassroots Indie movement that we started and is taking off right before our eyes.

And for that, I congratulate you. You all are just the greatest, and, with your greatness, you are exemplifying all that is possible, in the most positive terms, in what this little experiment called the Internet has to offer.

So, what’s next?

I don’t know if you’ve been following the updates or have seen the timeline on my sidebar, but here is the way forward:

In less than an hour, at 8:00PM tonight, I will post my review of John Northcutt Young’s story A NOTE.

Which means, I will soon be in the market for a new story to read.

Tomorrow night, Friday at 11:59PM to be exact, I will close the comments section down on the original solicitation announcement.

And then on Monday at 8:00PM, I will announce my selection of the next book I will read and review.

See the right sidebar for the complete timeline.

Okay?

Great.

And then, after that, we, and by we I mean you all will have to decide if we have enough momentum to do this all again.

I sure hope so…

WRITE ON!

Hey Author, what’s your book about?

JUMP TO UPDATES

So, I’ll soon be finishing up the story I’m currently reading (To see it, scroll down the sidebar on the left side of the page until you come to the CURRENTLY READING section. No, no…your left not mine!) and I’ll be wanting to read something else when I’m finished.

And I was thinking, which happens sometimes, usually right after eating leftover pizza for some strange reason (guess what I just had for lunch), and I was thinking, you know, I would really really like for the next book that I read to be yours.

And then I thought some more, well, if I’m going to read your book, how am I going to find out about it…

And then it hit me: Why, you can just tell me about it right here where we normally meet and chat from time to time.

It would certainly make it much easier and cut down on all the hassle and time it would take for me to seek out and find your book hidden amongst the verdant and pretty yet thickly tangled jungle of all the other book sites out there.

So, what do you say, Author? Can I read your book?

If so, then tell me, and by me I mean us, me and all of my reader friends who stop by on occasion for a visit.

Tell us a little bit about both your book and your writing self in the comments section. You know, a short synopsis of the story and a short Author bio. Include just enough stuff, and no more, that you think I’ll need to be compelled to tab right out of my cozy little site and rush off to find your ode to literary perfection.

And after you convince me that your book is the book that I will be reading next, I will announce it here with a post and profile it in the CURRENTLY READING section until I choose my next book to read.

Which could be a while since I’m such a slow reader…

Anyway, after I read it, I promise I will write to the best of my ability a flowing (and maybe glowing, but glowing is not guaranteed) review for it both here and at Amazon.

Oh yeah, and Goodreads, too, I guess (I don’t have much going on there but my blog feeds into it automatically…I guess I can cut and paste the review, too, so it’s all proper like).

But I will review it here and at Amazon, guaranteed!

Sound good?

Great.

So starting now go ahead and tell me all about it.

Let’s keep it loose and have fun. Because, let’s face it…

This ain’t the Paris Review, that’s for sure.

This is the Anytown Review, for the real, the tangible, the down-to-earth writers and readers.

So keep it real, okay Authors?

I’ll leave the comments open on this post until I make a decision.

My current read is a short story so it may be soon.

But I am a pretty slow reader (did I already mention that?) so…who knows for sure.

Until then, check out my current read, A Note by author JOHN NORTHCUTT YOUNG.

And while you’re at it, you should stop by John’s website and say hello.

And if you decide to buy John’s short story, which I hope you do, remember to always tip your server…meaning John.

Meaning, please write a review for him, and by him I mean all Independent Authors like him…and you…and me.

I can’t wait to read your book!

Oh yeah, for all of you out there who are not authors (or if you are an author but do not intend to tell me about your greatness because you’re one of the (stereo)typical needy and insecure type of authors too shy to trumpet your own glories, which means most of us), i.e., Readers, I ask for your help in this little thing we’re getting going here.

If I’m fortunate enough to have authors leave comments about their work, I ask that you please read through the comments and “Like” the ones that sound compelling to you.

The final decision will be mine, but, since I am also one of those (stereo)typical needy and insecure type of authors who is easily swayed by public opinion, the chances are that the majority just might rule in the selection process.

But we’ll see…

I’m literally being propelled by my leftover pizza high and thinking this up as I type, so if you have any ideas or feedback, or just want to let me know what a pretentious jerk I am because where do I get off thinking I can be a gatekeeper of finely tuned literary masterpieces then, well, please let me know…

BUT NOT IN THE COMMENT SECTION FOR THIS POST!

Let’s reserve that just for the Authors.

Please give me your highly anticipated ideas and suggestions via an email through the Contact page. Or just scroll down to the bottom of the Contact page and leave your comment there.

Okay?

Awesome!

Well, that’s that then…

What do you say we do this?

Right on?

WRITE ON!

~~~~

P.s. For an idea of what the final product will look like, template-wise, you can check out my published reviews here.

(Oh yeah, and BTW, we all know there’s nothing better in the world than free beer; however, free books come in a close second, wink wink. But free is definitely not a prerequisite…only a compelling story is. But I’m just sayin’…)

 

#indieauthorsrock
#readersruletheworld
#authorspayingitforward
#reblogthelove



 
UPDATE #1 – Be advised, Authors, that too many links in your comment submission will put it in the spam wait queue so you will not see it until I approve it. (Yeah, if you read my “Pro” Tip about moderating and approving comments you know how that makes me feel.) I don’t care how many links you include, I just want you to know I have to approve those first …am I getting redundant? I’ll stop now…

UPDATE #2 – Hey Readers, please help me out by taking the time to read over the Authors’ submissions and clicking the Like button for the ones you like the best. Thank you.

UPDATE #3 – Just received word that the author of my current read is having a giveaway promotion until Oct 20. You can check it out at his site or get the free story here.

UPDATE #4 – Keep an eye on my Tagline Status Update. I’m tracking my progress there.

(For more information on Tagline Status Updates, check out the “PRO” TIP: HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR WRITING RESOURCES – GUARANTEED! (QUICK TIP #1)

UPDATE #5 – I will post my Review of A NOTE by John Northcutt Young tomorrow evening at 8:00PM*, Thursday, 23 October 2014. I will suspend further commenting on this post at 11:59PM, Friday, 24 October 2014. And I will announce the selection for my next INDIE AUTHOR BOOK REVIEW at 8:00PM, Monday, 27 October 2014. Sound like a plan?

Great.

So, any Authors out there considering submitting a book, you still have a couple days to tighten up your proposals and get your submissions in.

And Readers, please continue to “Like” the submissions you like best. It’s a great help to everyone.

Good luck to all…and to me…I gots me some writin’ to do, fast like.

*All times are Eastern (NYC) USA

BACK TO TOP

Musically speaking…

This wonderful, seemingly lesser-known, online music mag provides a very meaty, eclectic new music mix download each month all for the low cost of you subscribing to their newsletter – CMJ

(back in the dark ages all this used to happen each month within the confines of a slick paper magazine and the mix was presented on an exciting and tangible thing called a CD, if you can imagine)


While I tend to bounce around from music service to music service (mostly pandora and tunein (see About), this station was my first find oh so long ago and is still my favorite, mostly because their streams are programmed by humans with hot blood coursing through their veins that percolate various and ever changing brews of moods and vibes and feelings that respond like a lava lamp to the life going on around them instead of by the tuneless pings of zeroes-and-ones-eyed spybots…and also because the site still has that new 90s internet web 1.0 smell to it – 3WK


And finally, I have been listening to Dashboard Confessional (does it change anything between us, you now knowing that I like Dashboard’s music?) lead singer Chris Carrabba’s new band, Twin Forks, for literally, oh yes I did just say literally, two straight days now. It’s a blast of banjo playin’ whistle whistlin’ toe tappin’ hand clappin’ folksy Americana of the most righteous sort, yet with an odoriferous air of sweet freshness all about it. Their site has a handy player at the top that allows you to “listen while browsing” to three of their songs off their self-titled debut album. And yes, you can still feel Carrabba’s heart-felt emotion slapping you in your face like a honey-soaked sponge (a real one, from the sea, not one of those puny fake square things) when he sings, but now it’s emotion without the emo (so to speak). The site also features two videos, one of which I have placed just so, just for you, right here within this private little post of ours. Now, I’m not sure what all the drama is about in the first minute and 17 seconds of the clip, but when the music kicks in afterwards, I dare you to not wiggle or tap in time with it at least some part of your blood coursing, human-like body.

 
 

FOR MORE LIKE THIS >> CLICK CLICK

If I could marry Netflix I would…

But since I’m already happily married and I don’t live in the Middle East, or Utah, I can’t.

Anyway, right now I’m a bit miffed and a lot impatient with my favorite little binge bot.

When is Netflix going to release Season Six of Sons of Anarchy?!

I mean, c’mon…

I’ve already watched the first five seasons…twice.

The only thing I can say is thanks be to the movie gods seeing that they just released Season Four of The Walking Dead.

That should keep me entertained.

For about sixteen hours, anyway.

Binge, hut…

****

You can read my Walking Dead interview here

You can read my SOA review here.

Sons of Anarchy

Sons of Anarchy: Hollywood’s Shakespearean Expression of the American Way of Life

FILM | TELEVISION | DRAMA | ACTION
SONS OF ANARCHY
RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★

Sons Of Anarchy

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States, and since I am American I must, like all Americans are doing across the nation and all over facebook, offer my thanks.

There are many things for which I am thankful: my family, my health, my freedom, football (football, the real kind, not soccer), you know, all the standard things a standard American is standardly thankful for.

But in addition to those standards, I am also thankful for the miracle of technology, for it allows me to experience right from my easy chair such wonderful, and cheap, mind melting joys like this and this and Netflix.

And I am especially thankful for Netflix, for it allows me to watch movies and television shows and documentaries and even some cartoons “on demand” (which is a very American way of putting it, no?).

And, of course I’m thankful for Hollywood, too, for without Hollywood, how else would I and the rest of the world know what it truly means to be an American?

And because of Hollywood, and Netflix, and technology, and my health (and all the free time it affords me), I just spent the past three or fours days (I’m not exactly sure how many it was because by the second day it all became a blur) watching a delightful, family show called Sons of Anarchy.

Well, it may not necessarily be a show you would want to watch as a family, but it is undeniably a show about family and the many challenges a typical — and non-typical — family faces.

Yeah, I know, as usual I’m late to the party. Four seasons late, to be exact. Season Five is already close to a wrap. Unfortunately, I will not be able to see it until sometime next year, probably right before Season Six kicks off; that is, if Netflix graciously makes it available for me to watch.

So much for “on demand” I guess.

Anyway, now, after that marathon of anarchy and mayhem I willingly subjected myself to, I can’t stop thinking, “What the hell just happened?”

You know, I’m not really sure. After four straight days of watching four straight seasons of head bangin’, rock n’ rollin’, face tattin’ motorcycle clubbin’, gun runnin’, drug slingin’, porn flickin’, bombs explodin’, race baitin’, back stabbin’ drama, I’m not sure of anything right now.

Except that the show is good.

Really good.

Once again, Hollywood did what it does best: exploiting, romanticizing, and glamorizing the most extreme of man’s deviant nature.

Hollywood did its job so well and the show is so good I gave it a Netflix rating of 4 out of 5 stars.

I briefly considered giving it 5 of 5, but it does have a few superficial flaws; however, over the entire well thought out and executed arc of the show, those flaws mostly become forgotten.

But for the curious, here are a few of the annoyances I noticed:

— A bizarre Irish Republican Army connection that put a bit of a drag on the pace and feel of the show for one of the seasons, season two, I think.

— A couple of cheezy reveals, especially at the end of season four, that pissed me off.

— Chuck Hunnam’s British accent. Mostly it goes unnoticed, but it is noticeable. It especially gets thick when he is talking with/screaming at Irish dudes.

But other than those minor flaws, the show is a masterpiece, as in Masterpiece Theatre.

Well, perhaps not but speaking of theatre — dammit, I’m American! — speaking of theater, Kurt Sutter, the show’s genius creator, is in no way shy about the show’s obvious draw off of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. For example, we have our conflicted prince (or Motor Cycle Club Vice President), we have our surrogate father king (or MC President and step-father of the VP), we have our ghost of the dead former king and father of the prince (or a manifesto written by the dead former MC President, which is found and read by the son/VP of said dead former MC President, and which conflicts said son/VP even more).

There are more parallels but I think you get the point.

Hey, if you’re gonna rip off someone’s storyline, who’s better to rip off than the Great Bard himself (who, by the way, is also accused of being a first class storyline ripper-offer in his own right).

Yeah indeed, it’s a raunchy, guns/drugs/sex-laden American version of Hamlet (heck, to make sure we slow on the uptake Americans didn’t miss the Hamlet connexion, Mr Sutter even titled the last two episodes of Season Four as “To Be – Act I” and “To Be – Act II” for us).

I haven’t watched such a deviantly fine contemporary adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s plays since My Own Private Idaho (yeah, I know — Keanu Reeves. But hey, his “style” of acting works in this flick and, besides, it also has River Phoenix (MHRIP)).

Yes sir (that would be a non-gender specific “sir”), Sons of Anarchy just about has it all; all, that is, except…anarchy.

Sure there’s all the killing and all the other subversion of societal “norms” one could imagine, but all that is done within the context of maintaining a structured and orderly, albeit somewhat illicit, motorcycle club. And clubs, especially those that are guided via vote and majority rule like the SAMCRO is (if you aren’t an SOA fan, you’re probably just as confused about the meaning of SAMCRO as I initially was when I first started watching the show…if you want to know what it means, ask Mr Google like I had to), represent anything but anarchistic ideals.

Clubs, especially those of the motorcycle variety, do not represent anarchy, they represent democracy and freedom.

And democracy and freedom, damn it, represent America!

Yes, the Sons of Anarchy, with its British leading man, and its British-owned storyline, and its Irish Republican Army and Mexican Drug Cartela dependencies and connexions–er, connections, is about as American as any television series could ever strive to be…

Or not to be.

Uhm, yeah…

Oh well, I tried.

While my dubious and corny conclusion may be in question, there is no question that, with Sons of Anarchy, Hollywood has served up yet another feast of a show for us turkeys to feed upon in our unending quest to fill our insatiable viewing appetites.

And for that, I also am thankful.

~~~~

Rating System:
★ = Unwatchable
★ ★ = Poor Show
★ ★ ★ = Average Show
★ ★ ★ ★ = Outstanding Show
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ = Exceptional Show

Punching the Clown [and it feels so good]

PUNCHING THE CLOWN
FILM | MOVIE | INDEPENDENT | COMEDY
RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★

“Punching the Clown” is sharp cut on life that’s both poignant and funny in a if Weird Al Yankovic were a struggling folk singer kind of way.

Because I dislike searching endlessly for something to watch, I’ll often choose a movie at random and give it go, which is how I ended up watching this surprisingly good indie flick on Netflix. It must have been because I certainly didn’t choose to watch it for its star power, seeing how I had never heard of any of its main actors before (or since) I watched it.

Still, I think you should watch it, too, for it is one of those so-called – and I apologize in advance for my blatant use of a cliche but I’m feeling a bit lazy today as is further evidenced by the brevity of this review – “hidden gems” of a movie deserving of a wide audience.
 


 

~~~~

Rating System:
★ = Unwatchable
★ ★ = Poor Movie
★ ★ ★ = Average Movie
★ ★ ★ ★ = Outstanding Movie
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ = Exceptional Movie

 
 

A Late Take On THE CORRECTIONS

BOOK | FICTION | LITERATURE
THE CORRECTIONS
by Jonathan Franzen

RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★

Jonathan Franzen
Jonathan Franzen

In 2001, after reading all the hype and controversy, as well as the fawning reviews of Jonathan Franzen’s THE CORRECTIONS, I thought to myself that I need to read this new It Author and made plans to rush out and buy the book. But for some reason I never did and I soon forgot about both the book and the author. I must confess, I’ve always had a hard time keeping up with literature’s contemporary writers. Heck, I have a hard enough time just trying to chip away at all of the classic literary must reads that are out there and, because I never really feel like I’m reading enough, I live with a constant feeling that I’m always a bit behind in life. Perhaps I need some couch time with Dr. Phil.

I do remember thinking to myself somewhere around mid-decade that there was once some writer that I really wanted to read, but I just couldn’t remember his name no matter how hard I tried. However, after reading the gushing reviews of Franzen’s long-awaited book FREEDOM, I finally remembered that it was his book THE CORRECTIONS that I had wanted to read so long ago. So, with that euphoric feeling of finally remembering something that had been on the tip of my tongue for a decade, I immediately rushed out to get a copy of THE CORRECTIONS before I forgot about it once again.

I got it, I read it, and yes, I agree Jonathan Franzen is an amazing writer. He deserves all of the hype he has received. And, perhaps because he has been placed in a category of elite writers few have or will every reach, maybe he even deserves the hostility and parodying that he has also received…or maybe I’m just jealous. Man, woman, or beast, whoever can write like Franzen can deserves to be the It Author of the decade in my opinion.

There are many better reviews about THE CORRECTIONS out there than I could ever write so all I’ll say is that the book is a sad, funny, and often psychologically wrenching story about a dysfunctional Midwestern family where, like the inevitable and often unexpected, and sometimes shattering, corrections that stock markets suffer from when they become unnaturally distorted or bloated, each member of this scattered and failing family is in need of his or her own life correction.

Coupled with his fluid writing style, perfect dialogue, and his ability to weave into the story his broad knowledge of the general mechanics of life in general, Franzen continually blew me away with his deep understanding of all the many different flavors of human nature and personality types. You will have to read the book to understand what I’m talking about here. He’s good.

The biggest fault of the book is perhaps a result of just how good Franzen is. He had so much to say that at times the story overwhelmed me with too much background and too much delving into the whys and hows the characters had turned out like they did. From time to time, I had to take a break from the book and walk it off.

Okay, so I’m ten years late to the party but I finally read THE CORRECTIONS and I’m glad I did. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend that you do. And once the massive hold queue for FREEDOM thins out at the library and my turn finally comes up, I plan on reading it, too. I just hope it doesn’t take me another ten years and having to overcome a bout of forgetfulness before I finally do.

~~~~

Rating System:
★ = Unreadable
★ ★ = Poor Read
★ ★ ★ = Average Read
★ ★ ★ ★ = Outstanding Read
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ = Exceptional Read

Our Cancer Year

BOOK | NON-FICTION | GRAPHIC NOVEL | HEALTH
OUR CANCER YEAR
by Harvey Pekar

RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Harvey Pekar
Harvey Pekar
I have been neck-high into the medical establishment since my leukemia diagnosis in November 2009. Consequently, while I do not consider myself an expert of the establishment by any stretch of the imagination, I do believe that I am far too acutely aware of it. But, I guess that is to be expected from someone as critically dependent upon it as I am.

In addition to my practical experiences with hospitals and doctors and examinations and extremely long needles, I have also spent much time reading about the establishment, especially that aspect of it which relates to the treatments of leukemia and chronic graft versus host disease (cGVHD) of the lungs.

Most of my medical-related reading has been as research conducted on the internet.

Thank god for the internet. I am one of those annoying types who like to be knowledgeable just enough about something to make me, if not dangerous (which it just may), then certainly annoying.

I’ve come to find out over the past three years that doctors are a lot of fun to annoy.

While there are probably more books about cancer out there stalking, I mean, stocking the shelves than there are cancerous cells, I don’t recall ever reading any of them.

I don’t know why. Maybe because they all seemed too sanitary or too personal or too impersonal or too whiney or too who knows what.

I didn’t so I just left them all alone; that is, until I learned that the legendary Harvey Pekar had his own version of a cancer story to tell.

Pekar, who died recently, is famous for his graphic novel series AMERICAN SPLENDOR, in which he chronicles his life as a VA Hospital file clerk in Cleveland, Ohio. It doesn’t sound like much to work with — Cleveland, file clerk, VA Hospital — but somehow it has endured through the years and was even turned into a flick starring the always spot-on Paul Giamatti as Pekar.

In 1990, Pekar was diagnosed with and treated for Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Four years after surviving through that experience, he collaborated with his wife Joyce Brabner to publish an AMERICAN SPLENDOR-like graphic novel called OUR CANCER YEAR.

OUR CANCER YEAR is a gritty, honest and, sometimes, horrific portrayal of what life was like for Pekar and his wife while battling the disease.

But it is about more than just his experience with cancer. Pekar’s wife is also a comic book writer who focuses her work on peace projects. Through her efforts, we are provided side story glimpses about Operation Desert Shield and her work with teenage peace activists. And, because they had recently purchased a home at the time of his diagnosis, we also have the added stress that comes with buying a home on top of everything else that is happening to them.

I found the book interesting because Pekar really was able to bring out the hope and heartache and stress and pain that one, and one’s loved ones, must endure throughout the entire cancer experience, from first finding out about the disease, to all the damage that the chemotherapy treatment does to the body, to the overwhelming toll it takes on those closest to the cancer patient trying to care for him. It was also interesting to me to compare how he managed to cope with the disease versus how I tried to manage.

Let’s just say he is a glass half empty kind of guy. While I typically am too, I never felt as down about the disease as he apparently did.

While Pekar and I had many similar experiences battling our respective cancers, we also had many differences. One of the most significant differences was a painful experience that he had to go through that I never did (at least not yet–knock on wood). Pekar contracted Herpes Zoster, also known as shingles. For some reason, Shingles are a big threat to chemotherapy patients. Thankfully, my doctors were very aggressive about it and put me on an antiviral drug called Valtrex (Valaciclovir) as a preventative measure for at least a year, and which I will probably take for the rest of my life. Pekar also suffered much worse hallucinations and anxiety than I did as an effect from all the drugs cancer patients typically have to take.

While most of what you need to know about the medical establishment in general and cancer in particular can be found on the internet, some things can’t. In my perspective, if you really want to get telling insight into the hardships that come with having cancer you either need to experience it yourself first-hand, which I emphatically do not recommend, or you need to experience it in a less graphic but completely realistic and touching way, like reading Pekar’s graphic novel OUR CANCER YEAR.

~~~~

Rating System:
★ = Unreadable
★ ★ = Poor Read
★ ★ ★ = Average Read
★ ★ ★ ★ = Outstanding Read
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ = Exceptional Read