Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences: Book Review

I'm currently thinking: How is a book review different from a book report? A review is more opinion based, less structured. How is grade school English class different from college English? In every way possible, except for that you still use words.

I'll spare you the detail of my hatred for English class until college and get on with this review.

I really don't know how I found the book Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagán, maybe it was a book club suggestion that didn't get picked, or maybe it was just a recommendation from Amazon with an interesting title. Either way, after a failed attempt at reading another Ann Patchett novel, this book was a pleasant surprise. 

The book tells the story of Libby Miller, after she learns that she has a rare form of cancer with a bleak prognosis. After seeing her mother go through cancer treatment, only to die when Libby and her twin brother were 9, Libby decided to forgo treatment to spare her family from all that comes with it. The trauma of her diagnosis is multiplied by a secret her high school sweetheart husband reveals on the same day, causing her to keep her cancer a secret.

She does tell one person though, the small-aircraft pilot she believes almost kills her on her way to her "end of life" vacation in the Caribbean. His reaction is not what you'd expect, in fact he's full of surprises as well, and I'm not going to give them away. Rather than the vacation itself, Shiloh, the pilot is just what Libby needs to face the facts and her fears. And no, this does not turn into some trashy romance novel. Instead it's a story of a woman whose death sentence teaches her how to live. To paraphrase what Libby tells her husband, he didn't ruin her life, he gave it back to her.

Pagán's novel is well written and easy to read. It's a pretty quick read as well, at around 250 pages. While it's not a suspense book, it does keep you engaged. Most of the characters have good and interesting back stories. If I had to say something negative however, it would be that the end of the novel feels a little rushed. A lot of time is skipped over and then there's an epilogue to wrap it up. While there aren't any loose ends left, I do feel like there could have been more of the story shared. That just means it was good, right? 'Cause I wanted more.

Who would enjoy this book? While I think it's more skewed towards women, I think anyone could enjoy it. Though it is about a woman diagnosed with cancer, it is not a depressing book, it's more about learning to live and get over your fears. Libby, who was once all sunshine and flowers, learns to be bold and to take charge of her life. As backwards as it sounds, her cancer diagnosis leads her to happiness. Life and Other Near-Death Experiences is only a little sad, while also being happy and funny and it's definitely worth picking up.


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