His is the same voice that says, “I haven’t had a real girlfriend, ever,” that asks, “can I kiss you?” that imitates Oscar the Grouch when he’s pissed me off, that recites quasi-sexual haikus on our eleven-month anniversary. “Tell your friends your boyfriend writes you poetry.”
His is the same voice that says, “You think you feel what? Come here. They feel fine to me. Perfect. As usual. Maybe even bigger.”
A few years ago, a good friend of mine proposed a bookstore outing. Her cousin had just published a novel, and she wanted to pick up a copy. My friend didn’t know what the book was about yet, only that her cousin had written it.
A few months ago, I was at the Wee Book Inn, and I happened across a distinctive cover and title that I recognized.
Cleavage is about Leah, a 24 year old woman with breast cancer. It’s about her fractured, fraying relationship, two years and counting at the time of her diagnosis. It’s about her strained relationship with her father and the remnants of her falling out with her mother and sister. It’s about her growing ambivalence towards her job, her friends, her life in general. It’s about her disease and her treatment and all the dark nasty thoughts that come along with that.
Cleavage grew out of an interesting place: while working on her degree in Psychology and Creative Writing, Bischoff was interviewing women with cancer for her undergraduate thesis in psycho-oncology (the psychology of dealing with cancer). At the same time, she began writing Cleavage (first a short story, later a novel) in her Creative Writing classes. Bischoff says in the book that “In Leah, I wanted to express the dark side of cancer and the pain it causes (essentially the view that cancer patients often feel they need to hide to protect their family and friends).”
I loved this book. I had no idea what to expect when I opened the cover, but I’m glad I did. More than anything, I’m struck by how real this book felt. The narration style — fragments and reflections that jump around in time, not quite stream-of-consciousness in nature — really adds to that sense. After all, real life doesn’t follow a neat narrative arc — things just sort of happen. Things in this book just sort of happen, and it gives you a wonderful sense of Leah’s exhaustion at the never-ending banality of her post-treatment life.
The characters in this book are brilliantly written, too. Everyone’s pretty self absorbed, with varying levels of asshole-ness, but it feels understandable, in a way. It feels real and honest. That’s just the way they are. You don’t necessarily fault Leah for being a bit of a bad person at times, and you side with her when others (unintentionally) expect more than she is able to give.
I actually flew through this book and finished it a number of days ago, but I’ve fallen behind on my blogging. I’ve got another post to go up before I can go back to reading Book Number 6.
Book Count: 4