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The Undying

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A week after her forty-first birthday, the acclaimed poet Anne Boyer was diagnosed with highly aggressive triple-negative breast cancer. For a single mother living paycheck to paycheck who had always been the caregiver rather than the one needing care, the catastrophic illness was both a crisis and an initiation into new ideas about mortality and the gendered politics of illness.

A twenty-first-century Illness as Metaphor, as well as a harrowing memoir of survival, The Undying explores the experience of illness as mediated by digital screens, weaving in ancient Roman dream diarists, cancer hoaxers and fetishists, cancer vloggers, corporate lies, John Donne, pro-pain ”dolorists,” the ecological costs of chemotherapy, and the many little murders of capitalism. It excoriates the pharmaceutical industry and the bland hypocrisies of ”pink ribbon culture” while also diving into the long literary line of women writing about their own illnesses and ongoing deaths: Audre Lorde, Kathy Acker, Susan Sontag, and others.

A genre-bending memoir in the tradition of The Argonauts, The Undying will break your heart, make you angry enough to spit, and show you contemporary America as a thing both desperately ill and occasionally, perversely glorious.

320 pages, Paperback

First published September 17, 2019

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Anne Boyer

22 books423 followers

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5 stars
1,800 (44%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 492 reviews
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,001 reviews35.9k followers
June 22, 2020
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2020 - non-fiction

The author, Anne Boyer, is a cancer survivor. ( highly aggressive triple-negative breast cancer)....a poet, single mother, living paycheck to paycheck.

Anne Boyer’s book is amazing. She wrote about her experience... every inch of it.
I literally could have highlighted her words on almost every page.

Anne said....
“she had abandoned this book at least a thousand times, a number that does not include the innumerable other destructions inherent in writing it- the drafts deleted, pages erased, passages excised, structures disposed of, arguments unraveled, sentiments self-forbidden, anecdotes untold”.
“If this book had to exist, I wanted it to be a minor form of reparative magic, for it to be expropriate the force of literature away from literature, manifest the communism of the unlovable, grant anyone who reads it in freedom that can come from being thoroughly reduced”.

The Undying.....
.....Pain, vulnerability, mortality, medicine, art, time, dreams, data, exhaustion, cancer, and care.

“Like the birds that have been liberated from the content of their flying and like the liberated tea, a diagnosed person is liberated from what she once thought of as herself”.

“To be declared with certainty
‘ill’ while feeling with certainty
‘fine’ is too fall on the hardness of language without being given even an hour of soft uncertainty in which to steady oneself with preemptive worry, aka now you don’t have a solution to a problem, now you have a specific name for a life breaking in two”.
“Illness that never bothered to announce itself to the senses radiates in screen life, as light is sound and is information encrypted, unencrypted, circulated, analyzed, rated, studied, and sold. In the servers, our health degrades or improves. Once we were sick in our bodies. Now we are sick in a body of light”.

“Every person with a body should be given a guide to dying as soon as they are born”.

Poignant, courageous—brilliant narrative- insightful; written....
with emotional integrity.

Congrats to Anne Boyer on her accomplishments- her Pulitzer Prize win is well deserved.
Profile Image for Linda.
138 reviews
August 6, 2019
I received an advance reader copy of The Undying: Pain, Vulnerability, Mortality, Medicine, Art, Time, Dreams, Data, Exhaustion, Cancer, and Care as part of a Goodreads Giveaway that may not have been wise for me to enter. Like the author Anne Boyer, I have triple-negative breast cancer, but there are so many differences in our situations: my cancer is stage 4, so I'll never be "cured" or have a "last chemo day" to look forward to; mine is due to a genetic mutation; I haven't had a mastectomy, and I don't think at this point I will; I was 31 when diagnosed; I am in a supportive marriage; my son is on the autism spectrum... and on and on. She does point out that everybody's cancer is different, yet many times it felt as though she was using her experiences to say something about all breast cancer patients, which didn't sit well with me.

The book also has many stories of individuals who have or had cancer, and speaking to their reality as theirs is fine. More often, though, it's not a message of hope but one of despair. Honestly, I don't think this is a good book for someone (like me) who is currently going through treatment and got past denial a while ago. This is for newer patients who don't quite have a handle on the severity of what they're dealing with yet, and for friends and relatives who also may not realize all the pain and frustration that their loved one is experiencing—or even just doesn't understand what cancer is, what the various treatments do, or even that there are multiple forms of chemotherapy, and the patient must make many life-or-death decisions for themselves.

Boyer also points out ways in which cancer treatment is failing us, and how frequently doctors over-diagnose cancer to the benefit of investors. This can be a bit of a horror story for those who have cancer or love someone who does.
Profile Image for Mary Deacon.
40 reviews52 followers
May 14, 2020
A beautifully written book. Well deserving of the Pulitzer.
Profile Image for But_i_thought_.
178 reviews1,470 followers
December 14, 2020
Winner of the Pulitzer for Non-Fiction 2020

In 2014, at the age of 41, poet and essayist Anne Boyer is diagnosed with cancer. Not just that, but a particularly aggressive form of necrotic breast cancer with uncertain odds of survival. Added to that: She is a single mother, living in the States, no savings. She has no partner or family nearby to help care for her. Moreover: Each chemotherapy infusion session costs more than her annual salary. This is her story.

To call this book a memoir would be to do it a disservice. It is more of an “f you” to the ritualistic performativity of the subjective experience. Boyer’s approach is neither confessional, nor heart-warming. It is, instead, defiant and subversive. A manifesto. A call-to-arms. The author writes:

“I would rather write about anything else, not only for fear of the pain of examining the pain, but also for fear of turning the pain into a product. I would rather write about anything else, not just for fear of telling the same story, but for fear that the “same story” is a lie in service of the way things are.”

If this book has to exist, Boyer wishes it to be “a minor form of reparative magic”, an expropriation of the force of literature, a manifesto of the unlovable - granting everyone who reads it the freedom that comes from being damaged into an intensified version of themselves. To achieve this, Boyer gathers around herself the great minds of the past (many who have suffered from similar afflictions) – Susan Sonntag, Kathy Acker, Audre Lorde, Virginia Woolf, Natalia Ginzburg and others. Their works and the meaning of their words form the scaffolding around which Boyer layers her personal story.

A non-normative portrait of cancer emerges: Cancer as a never-ending performance of valiance (tied to the false heroics of disease legibility), the ecological costs of chemotherapy, the cancer fetish as experienced by strangers, the brutal mystifications of the medical profession, the all-out somatic decimation that follows chemotherapy, the dark sides of pink ribbon culture.

On a more personal level: What it means to feel “like a city that is most interesting for its ruins”, the vertical life versus the horizontality of illness, the ways in which illness incubates deep thinking, the sharpened optics that come with life lived with an uncertain attachment to time. A fascinating section titled The Sickbed critically examines the way cancer patients are portrayed in literature – beings voiceless, fractured and enigmatic. Angels of epiphany. Instruments of patho-pornography:

“Cancer is in our time and place one of the most effective disease at eradicating the precise and individual nature of anyone who has it, and feminized cancers – in that to be seen as a woman is also to be, in a way, semi-eradicated, this eradication deepened by class, race, and disability – even more so.”

When trying to isolate why I loved this book so much, I think it comes down to the lucidity of the writing and the deeply self-investigative nature of the text. Here is writing not as self-preservation, nor as performance, nor as edification, but rather as an act of devotion in search of truth – the ideology of the self, primarily, from the perspective of the personal, the public and the historical.

Judge this book, therefore, not for its utility, nor its depth of feeling, but rather as a “record of the motions of a struggle to know, if not the truth, then the weft of all competing lies.”

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Literature discussed

• Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor
• Kathy Acker, The Gift of Disease
• Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
• Aelius Aristides, Sacred Tales
• Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies
• Clarice Lispector, Aqua viva
• John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
• Michael Foucault, The Birth of the Clinic
• Harriet Martineau, Life in the Sick-Room
• Woolf et al, On Being Ill
• Goethe, Faust
• Bertolt Brecht, Brecht on Art & Politics
• Fanny Burney, Diaries and Letters
• Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals


“To be declared with certainty ill while feeling with certainty fine is to fall on the hardness of language without being given even an hour of soft uncertainty in which to steady oneself with preemptive worry."

“A newly diagnosed person with access to the Internet is information’s incubant. Data visits like a minor god. Awake, we pass the day staring into the screen’s abyss, feeling the constriction of the quantitative, trying to learn to breathe through the bar graphs, head full of sample sizes and survival curves, eyes dimming, body reverent to math.”

“Your hair will fall out onto every surface you come near: it will fall into new alphabets and new words. Read these words to discover the etiology of your illness: If you are lucky you will read another word that means “illness has turned you into an armament”.

“If you begin to accept your illness, or even to love it, you worry that you might want to keep it around. You think, when you feel bad, that you will never long for it, but in truth you do, since it provides such clear instruction for existing, brings with it the sharpened optics of life without futurity, the purity of the double vision of any life lived on the line.”

“A sick person in bed is the ward of love, if she is lucky, and the orphan of action, even if she is not. All the accumulated gorgeousness of life in bed can be eclipsed by gravity there, and dreams, too, become occluded by pain. Every pleasure of a bed can, during illness, disappear behind fresh architectures of worry.”

“A well person’s astral projection remains mostly atmospheric, but the deeply ill person in pain, in order to escape it, can sprint away from the pain-husk of the failing body and think themselves into a range beyond range. When pain is so vast, it makes it hard to remember history or miles per hour, which should make the sickbed the incubator for almost all genius and nearly most revolution.”
Profile Image for Canadian Reader.
1,064 reviews23 followers
May 3, 2020
This is an extremely cerebral work—very literary, very allusive—in which the author, a poet, philosophically and elliptically considers her breast cancer. I’m afraid I found it very hard going. I believe I could have pushed through, but I made the decision that I simply wasn’t committed enough to make the effort. I did not finish the book.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,602 reviews2,573 followers
December 7, 2019
In 2014, Boyer, then a 41-year-old poet and professor at the Kansas City Art Institute (and a single mother) was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer. The book’s subtitle gives you clues to the sort of practical and emotional territory that’s covered here. Although she survived this highly aggressive cancer, she was not unscathed: the particular chemotherapy she had is so toxic it leads to lasting nerve damage and a brain fog that hasn’t completely lifted.

All the more impressive, then, that Boyer has been able to put together this ferociously intellectual response to American cancer culture. Her frame of reference ranges from ancient Greece – Aelius Aristides, who lived in a temple, hoping the gods would reveal the cure to his wasting illness via dreams, becomes an offbeat hero for her – to recent breast cancer vloggers. She is scathing on vapid pink-ribbon cheerleading that doesn’t substantially improve breast cancer patients’ lives, and on profit-making healthcare schemes that inevitably discriminate against poor women of color and send people home within days of a double mastectomy. Through her own experience, she reflects on the pressure women are under to be brave, to be optimistic, to go to work as normal, and to look as beautiful as ever when they are in excruciating pain and beyond exhaustion.

Impossible to avoid comparisons to Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor, but this book has a personal power I don’t remember finding in Sontag’s more detached, academic-level work. Boyer sees herself as one in a long lineage of women writing about their cancer – from Fanny Burney to Audre Lorde – and probes the limits of language when describing pain. I was reminded of another terrific adjacent book from this year, Constellations, by Sinéad Gleeson, especially where Boyer describes a 10-part pain scale (Gleeson has a set of 20 poems based on the McGill Pain Index).

I could quote excellent passages all day, but here are a few that stood out to me:

“People with breast cancer are supposed to be ourselves as we were before, but also better and stronger and at the same time heart-wrenchingly worse. We are supposed to keep our unhappiness to ourselves but donate our courage to everyone.”

“Every person with a body should be given a guide to dying as soon as they are born.”

“The moral failure of breast cancer is not in the people who die: it is in the world that makes them sick, bankrupts them for a cure that also makes them sick, then blames them for their own deaths.”

“If suffering is like a poem, I want mine to be lurid, righteous, and goth.”

“Exhaustion is boring, requires no genius, is democratic in practice, lacks fans. In this, it’s like experimental literature.”

Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.
Profile Image for Diana.
728 reviews4 followers
May 5, 2021
I’m marking this book finished but I did not finish it. In fact I can’t abide another minute of it. I realized as soon as she quoted some ancient philosopher I was not going to like it but since it was only five hours and I’d used a credit on it I was determined to grit my teeth and get through it. But I can’t. I was a philosophy major (albeit many many years ago) and I can’t understand half of what she’s saying. Even if could I truly detest books written by academicians who apply literature and philosophy in tortured abstract ways to their life experiences. Others must enjoy this because these types of books generally get glowing reviews (and the New York Times put it on a best books list which is what led me to it) but I find it pretentious, uninteresting and utterly without merit.
Profile Image for Barbara.
437 reviews2 followers
October 8, 2019
The Undying is a grim look at one woman’s treatment of triple negative breast cancer. After finishing my own chemotherapy for the same type of cancer last month, I put my brave face on and decided to read the book to compare our treatments. I believe the author is overthinking the whole experience with her intellectual and philosophical knowledge. But that could be a difference in our personalities, too. Our chemotherapies were the same, but I never viewed myself as a sick and abandoned animal. I do agree that it’s difficult to remember the previously healthy person inside of me. Hopefully that will change with time.
Profile Image for Kat.
85 reviews
September 21, 2019
i won't disparage this book with metrics, not gonna rate it. you should read it, though.
Profile Image for Navya.
48 reviews
July 8, 2020
“Disease is never neutral. Treatment never not ideological. Mortality never without its politics.”

This book (by one of my favorite writers) has been called a memoir, but could also be described as a poem, a series of essays, a history, or a Marxist feminist manifesto on breast cancer. I think I could write a hundred reviews of this book, each from a different perspective. I could write a review that approaches this book from the perspective of spirituality and dreams. I could write a review that approaches this book from the perspective of poetry and storytelling. But as I read this book, I kept wishing I had gotten the chance to read it for class, back when I got to spend every day discussing illness and capitalism with my classmates and professors. So I’ll write my review as a student.

As other reviews have noted, this is not a hopeful book; Boyer pushes hard against narratives of medical progress. Cancer treatment may be increasingly high-tech and expensive, but as she notes, many patients still go without “adequate pain control… physical therapy… time off work… a hospital bed to recover in or rehabilitation for the cognitive damage incurred during their treatment.” Why are our notions of progress so bound up in the romance of biotechnology, rather than these most basic and desperate needs of the sick? In Boyer’s writing, the shadow of capitalism is heavy on the clinic floor.

Boyer points out that modern science and medicine, for all their trappings of post-Enlightenment rationality, make their own assumptions and carry their own demands of faith. And she insists upon recognizing oncology’s internal debates and ambiguities, including the uncertainty of cancer’s very definition. “‘Cancer’ is a historically specific, socially constructed imprecision and not an empirically established monolith. This whole time I’ve been writing about cancer, I’ve been writing about something that scientists agree doesn’t quite exist, at least not as one unified thing.” Like schizophrenia, the diagnostic criteria for which have changed over the decades to reinforce social control, and like symptoms of nervos, which present with cultural specificity in Brazil, cancer is historically contingent and socially constructed. And while this very argument forms the basis of much work in medical anthropology and history of science, this is my first time encountering it in a patient narrative--which is just one of the many things which makes this book so special.

A significant part of the book is dedicated to the discussion of pain. Almost as soon as she introduces the subject, Boyer references Elaine Scarry’s famous claim that pain “destroys language,” and that this resistance to language makes pain a completely isolating and private experience. Boyer’s response is that “the claims about pain’s ineffability are historically specific and ideological, that pain is widely declared inarticulate for the reason that we are not supposed to share a language for how we really feel,” and that pain could have a language: it just requires the work of producing one. Although this initial argument feels perhaps a little unfair to Scarry, who does engage with a few attempts (in both medicine and art) to produce a new lexicon of pain, and who is concerned above all with the political consequences of suppressing pain’s expression, Boyer goes on to provide rebuttals I find more convincing, particularly by noting that pain is sometimes so vivid in its expression that it provokes sympathetic discomfort, and that sometimes that discomfort is so strong that it provokes continued violence.

Scarry’s work has received its fair share of arguments since it was published in 1985, and her response echoes many of these. Like Byron Good, Boyer emphasizes that pain can actually inspire a great degree of articulate expression, and like Julie Livingston, she argues that it is a lie to say “that we are always alone in pain,” which can be a social experience. Again, however, the fact that this is also a patient narrative adds another layer to the argument. Her eloquence in describing pain functions itself as evidence against the idea that pain destroys language. If Scarry herself were to read Boyer’s writing on the experience of pain, surely she would have to be convinced.

One of the most powerful things about this book is Boyer’s thorough refusal to embody the role of the idealized cancer patient, or the idealized sufferer more generally. She is incredibly intentional about this, writing of her fear that with this memoir she might “turn the pain into a product,” or tell “a lie in service of the way things are,” or “propagandize for the world as it is.” This review is getting super long, so suffice it to say that this book could never be accused of doing those things. It is deeply honest, anti-commercial, and at odds with both ease and power every step of the way (as she writes at one point, a beautiful book against beauty). It is defiant of and angry at the expectations that patients manage their disease with positivity and deference to the healthy, that they make normality their goal or standard, that they sacrifice their autonomy and self-respect, that they ally themselves with the living at the expense of the dead.

Gonna close with this quote that I want to tattoo on my forehead:
“What a relief to have not been protected, I decided, to not be a subtle or delicate person whose inner experience is made only of taste and polite feeling; what a relief not to collect tiny wounds as if they are the greatest injuries while all the rest of the world always, really, actually bleeds. It’s yet another error in perception that those with social protection can look at those who have at times lacked it, and imagine that weakness is in the bleeder, not those who have never bled. Those who diminish the beauty and luxury of survival must do so because they have been so rarely almost dead.”
Profile Image for Meg .
102 reviews27 followers
October 29, 2019
This isn't the kind of book anyone is going to pick up for funsies and light reading - so most likely you're either a survivor, surviving, or the loved one of a survivor or someone who didn't survive. The subject matter itself makes this book hard to "rate," I mean how do you rate someone else's breast cancer experience, that sounds asinine in itself - but it is a published book and open to critique like any other book.

This is exactly the book I'd expect a university tenured poet to write about their cancer journey. Is that good? Is that bad? Mostly it's just sprawling, word-y, and if you like stream-of-consciousness writing, poetry, and want to really groove out on this theme, then this is the book for you.

It was not the book for me. I found myself lost in the prose poem effect of her vignettes, struggling to find a narrative rope I could cling to at times. I found it altogether too ethereal and often felt like I was walking in a fog unsure of where the narrative was going and what we were going to do if we ever got there.

My neutral-dislike of the book is due to my own personal taste and I have nothing negative to say about the author's intent, technique, or talent. I know there are a lot of readers who will rejoice in Boyer's prose and find something deep and meaningful in it. It's just not my cup of tea.
Profile Image for Areeb Ahmad (Bankrupt_Bookworm).
672 reviews204 followers
February 4, 2021
Simply put, one of the best nonfiction books I will ever read in my life. Boyer's mind is astonishing. Her spectacular intellect is matched by some seriously amazing use of language. RTC.
Profile Image for Ai Miller.
576 reviews35 followers
November 20, 2019
This was difficult to approach at first, I think honestly because I haven't read anything like it, but as I got into it, it was SO mind-boggling and really forced me to think about not only narratives around cancer but health generally. Boyer doesn't go much into disability or crip studies, which might have put her in conversation with some really interesting lines of thought (I, certainly, would have LOVED to see some of that, and would love to talk with folks who have read both some disability studies and this book,) but she does put herself in conversation with other women writers who died from cancer, and so many other things it can kind of make your head spin, in the best way. There are just so many levels to her thoughts here, and the loss of cognitive ability, and pain, and so many things. It's a book I will almost definitely return to and get even more out of it, and I feel like I got a lot out of it already. Definitely recommended!
Profile Image for Amy Bruestle.
273 reviews205 followers
January 1, 2020
I won this book through a giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

Holy smokes! There was A LOT captured in this book! I was a tad hesitant at first, not sure if it was really a book for me. I was proven wrong, and proven wrong quickly, at that!

Not only does this book touch on many different topics, it also makes you feel. Like, really, FEEL. Whether you have been through the exact same experience, whether you know someone who has, whether you don’t have any experience whatsoever with the points in this book, there is STILL something everyone can relate to! I feel like that is hard to say about a book. Especially a book about Cancer.

I am glad to have read this, and I feel wiser for it. My plan is to pass my copy on to a friend who after 20 years of dealing with cancer is FINALLY in remission. I think she will really enjoy this! Thank you!
Profile Image for jerry.
41 reviews
December 4, 2019
whooaooaoawwow can't get over this piece of genius- tender comprehensive real brilliance. Anne Boyer is so smart, this is obvious. and she approaches a piece about health, cancer, care, capitalism, gender, sixkness...etc..with such a unique voice. this is necessary! It is poetry and prose and it invokes such incredible voices and stories of writers and women and people who have experienced such pain and aloneness. The whole time I was reading it I knew I was missing so much of it. But maybe that was/is ok. I missed a lot but gathered so much and feel more connected to the complexity and constructedness of something like cancer and what it means to live in a body in this sickened world.
Profile Image for Jenna.
801 reviews87 followers
February 13, 2020
This book was interesting. very sad and very hard to read at points. but powerful and beautiful. not an enjoyable reading experience.
Profile Image for Basia.
107 reviews20 followers
December 30, 2019
This book, well, it kind of ruined my day, which is another way of saying it's a devastating book. It's also a necessary book. Anne Boyer does more than reveal the misogyny, classism, racism and other injustices laden in the breast cancer industrial complex and healthcare in general. She also untangles deceptions that have led many of us to put troubling, unflinching faith in a system that cashes in on our ignorance and other failures. This is a book I cannot forget.
Profile Image for Leticia.
339 reviews513 followers
March 3, 2021
what a raw, beautiful book. absolutely unsentimental and it made me reflect on lots of socioeconomic factors around cancer that had not been in my mind. excellent writing.
Profile Image for Sarah Jaffe.
Author 7 books869 followers
December 28, 2021
I held off on reading this for ages knowing it would devastate me, and I have now read it and it has indeed devastated me and it is beautiful and I am crying.
Profile Image for Traci Thomas.
543 reviews9,829 followers
May 29, 2021
The content was super interesting and different way to talk about cancer and the cancer industry than I’d seen. Some of the poetic sentences are just outstanding. The form sometimes confused me or took me out of it. Couldn’t focus on the book.
Profile Image for Brenda.
124 reviews14 followers
September 18, 2019
In The Undying, Anne Boyer says, “I have always wanted to write the most beautiful book against beauty.” As a poet, her choice of vocabulary and use of language as she writes about the horrors of breast cancer - not just the physical horrors but the societal and economic horrors - is so beautifully moving you won’t be able to put it down. I was flying last weekend and recommended the book to a woman sitting next to me who overheard me talking about it to my fiancé and asked about it because her friend is going through breast cancer treatment. I described the book to her as a “feminist examination of the business of breast cancer,” and it felt like the best description. Boyer’s book examines the oncology and pharmacology industries as they relate to breast cancer, including all of the cost, the racism, and the damage done by the breast cancer industrial complex. She also shares deeply personal insights about her own experiences and pain. The Undying is a must read for those who have had breast cancer touch their lives and those who haven’t alike.
Profile Image for A. H. Reaume.
39 reviews57 followers
June 15, 2020
I liked this book but Boyer really needed to do a bit more research into pain and disability. She claims that pain is mostly visible. Um no. As someone with an invisible disability who everyone think is okay because I always look fine even when I’m in pain - this is very harmful. Many disabled people with chronic pain have to keep living their lives so become good at hiding pain. We also culturally struggle to see the pain of marginalized people like people of colour or black people. See all the many studies about medical racism. This is a highly dangerous and harmful claim to make and it shows that she has not thought about or researched this part of her book very deeply. She is just talking about her pain. But universalizing it. And perpetuating a narrative that very materially harms others.
Profile Image for Vincent Scarpa.
567 reviews154 followers
May 24, 2020
“A widely held notion about pain seems to be that it ‘destroys language.’ But pain doesn’t destroy language: it changes it. What is difficult is not impossible. That English lacks an adequate lexicon for all that hurts doesn’t mean it always will, just that the poets and marketplaces that have invented our dictionaries have not — when it comes to suffering — done the necessary work.”
4,863 reviews53 followers
July 22, 2019
I won this book in a goodreads drawing.

A woman gets breast cancer, and being a writer, decides to write about it. She writes about various historical sick people, and the side effects of the disease and the medicine. Depressing, but interesting.
Profile Image for Meg.
1,347 reviews14 followers
June 30, 2020
Fucking gorgeous, I want to buy a copy for everyone I know and love.
Profile Image for Misha.
736 reviews8 followers
October 7, 2019
"To be declared with certainty ill while feeling with certainty fine is to fall on the hardness of language without being given even an hour of soft uncertainty in which to steady oneself with preemptive worry, aka now you don't have a solution to a problem, now you have a specific name for a life breaking in two. Illness that never bothered to announce itself to the senses radiates in screen life, as light is sound and is information encrypted, unencrypted, circulated, analyzed, rated, studied, and sold. In the servers, our health degrades or improves. Once we were sick in our bodies. Now we are sick in a body of light." (15)

"Pull your hair out by the handfuls in socially distressing locations: Sephora, family court, Bank of America, in whatever location where you do your paid work, while in conversation with the landlord, at Leavenworth prison, however in the gaze of men. Negotiate for what you need because you will need it now more than ever. If these negotiations fail, yank your hair out of your head in front of who would deny you, leave clumps of your hair in the woods, on the prairies, in QuikTrip parking lots, in front of every bar at which your conventionally feminine appearance earned you and your friends pitchers of domestic beer." (47)

"'Fuck cancer' is always the wrong slogan if for no other reason than that the cancer is your own body growing inside you, but also because 'cancer' is a historically specific, socially constructed imprecision and not an empirically established monolith. This whole time I've been writing about cancer, I've been writing about something that scientists agree doesn't quite exist, at least not as one unified thing. Fuck white supremacist capitalist patriarchy's ruinous carcinogenosphere would be a lot better, but it is a difficult slogan to fit on a hat." (78)

"Cancer required painful, expensive, environmentally harmful, extractive medicine. My desire to survive means I still can't bring myself to unravel survival's ethics. One of the chemotherapy drugs with which I am treated, cyclophosphamide, passes into the urine only partially diluted, is only partially removed by water treatment methods, and lasts in the common water supply for four hundred to eight hundred days." (86)

"I would rather write nothing at all than propagandize for the world as is." (116)

"I tell my daughter that my BRCA genetic test came back negative. I tell her that without a hormonal cause and without a genetic tendency and without obvious life-style factors the cancer I had probably just came from exposure to radiation or random carcinogens, that she doesn't have to worry that she is predisposed or genetically cursed.

'You forget,' she answered. 'that I still have the curse of living in the world that made you sick.'" (131)

"Dying of breast cancer is not evidence of the weakness or moral failure of the dead. The moral failure of breast cancer is not in the people who die: it is in the world that makes them sick, bankrupts them for a cure that also makes them sick, when the cure fails, blames them for their own deaths." (199)

"A widely held notion about pain seems to be that it 'destroys language.' But pain doesn't destroy language: it changes it. What is difficult is not impossible. That English lacks an adequate lexicon for all that hurts doesn't mean it always will, just that the poets and marketplaces that have invented our dictionaries have not--when it comes to suffering--done the necessary work.

Suppose for a moment the claims about pain's ineffability are historically specific and ideological, that pain is widely declared inarticulate for the reason that we are not supposed to share a language for how we really feel." (213)
Profile Image for Bella.
10 reviews
February 2, 2021
This was a piercing memoir about a woman diagnosed with breast cancer. Her treatment involved intensive chemotherapy and a double mastectomy. In remission, she deals with the repercussions of that treatment, including heart and nerve damage.

One of the most gut wrenching moments Boyer shares in her journey is when the hospital considered her double mastectomy an outpatient procedure. She was sent out of the recovery ward before she could even stand up. Only ten days later, she returned to work as a teacher with drainage bags still stitched to her chest.

This is just one example of how political and economic structures multiplied Boyer’s suffering. Whether it’s the hospital (in one of the richest counties in the world) that decided to rush her recovery or her insurance provider that decided she didn’t deserve any more sick leave or the employer that decided they wouldn’t guarantee the return to her job.

A very eye opening read!

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jan.
1,071 reviews29 followers
January 12, 2021
A single-mom poet, diagnosed at 41 with aggressive breast cancer, writes a short book with a broad scope about her personal experiences, female intellectuals lost to cancer, the modern cancer industrial complex, and more. Some sections work better than others. 3.5 stars rounding up.
Profile Image for Derek.
1,451 reviews50 followers
October 20, 2022
Like so many of us, I’ve been affected by breast cancer. My mother died of it when I was 14. Her mother died of it when she was 3. My wife, fortunately, just survived a bout with the triple negative variety encountered by the author. Good to see think about how my wife may have experienced cancer by reading this poet’s book. She’s going to read the book soon. I also liked the theoretical sophistication of the work. Sontag and Foucault are of course here.
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