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I am a retired English teacher and department head, the mother of three, grand mother of three, and have been married to the same man for 42 years. I subscribe to Dr. PM Forni's concept of Civility. I was born in South Philadelphia and grew up in the 'burbs. I love soft pretzels and cheesesteaks, the Phillies, the Eagles, and San Diego. I love being Mom, Aunt Kathy, Nona Kathy, and Teacher. I spend a lot of time in my gardens in the spring and summer, and in the winter I plan what I'm going to plant. I also am an avid reader and photographer.

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Club and In Memory of Gilda

I read for lots of different reasons. Sometimes I want to learn, sometimes I want to be entertained, and sometimes I just want to escape! Having read some pretty commanding stuff lately, I chose to read The Friday Night Knitting Club (2007) by Kate Jacobs. I thought this would be a combination "chick lit/learn something/appreciate women's issues kind of read. And for the most part it was. Until I got about half way through the book when I realized I didn't know that much about the main character -- enough to like her or want to know her. There seems a huge disconnect about the way she sees herself and the way others view her -- repeatedly; annoyingly. Granted, this is often part of the human condition: a universal theme. But there is more.

An author walks a treacherous road in character development. She can't divulge too much about her characters, but must take care to 'hint' to her readers along the way, otherwise occurrences fly out of left field -- literally and figuratively jolting her readers. Great literature contains surprises, but they still have to make sense -- some modicum of information given that allows the feasibility of the events to take place. For those of you considering reading this book STOP HERE. I'm about to give away the ending.

In The Friday Night Knitting Club the main character goes to her gynecologist after a long lapse in visits, where she learns she has an ovarian tumor that 'looks malignant.' Only after the diagnosis and radical hysterectomy does the character mention that she felt occasional bloating. In her defense, Jacobs does briefly mention that ovarian cancer is a 'silent killer' -- that by the time symptoms are noticed, it's often too late. This is accurate medicine, but it's not appropriate plot or character development. After her course of chemo, Georgia Walker, doubles over in pain and dies in the hospital a few days later.

There is a big reason why this upset me so. First, I've taught and read enough literature that I recognize good plot and character development when I read it. And probably more importantly, on May 29th of this year, I celebrate my sixth anniversary of wellness. It was on this day in 2003, that I was shocked to discover I had ovarian cancer. The tumor had been growing for quite some time and I had 'quiet symptoms' but symptoms nevertheless. Scheduled for what we expected was the removal of four small cysts on my left ovary (about an hour's procedure via a laparoscopy), I would be released from the hospital the next morning. (I had been pre-warned, however, that if the cysts were at all suspicious, the means by which they would be removed would change). After about seven hours of surgery, being cut from above the navel to the symphisis pubis, and a radical bi-lateral hysterectomy and appendectomy, I awoke groggy and in pain to the truth.

When a psychologist came to see me the next morning and asked what I knew about ovarian cancer, all I could think about was Gilda Radner and her valiant struggle with ovarian cancer and so replied, "Everyone I've ever known who has had ovarian cancer is dead." She told me that ten years prior this was very true, but there are many more survivors now. She was right. More and more women survive this 'silent killer' every year. Knowing this Kate Jacobs does every one of us who have survived ovarian cancer a great dis-service.

7 comments:

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I thought the revelation of the disease was handled poorly in this novel. I read that there is a sequel to the novel, and although I enjoyed reading it well enough, I haven't been tempted by the follow-up.

Purple Flowers said...

I am so glad you are well! I have ovarian cysts which I get checked regularly.

Jay said...

It's good that she wanted to bring attention to this, but I'm not so sure this was the best way she could have done that.

Dear Liza said...

Hmm...I guess I don't really know waht to say here. I have not read the book, and now I know I don't want to. I hate when characters aren't developed correctly so I know exactly what you are talking about. But more importantly, I understand what you are saying about the dis-service done to you and other survivors. Perhaps YOU need to write a book about your experience in this area. You can be the expert who has been there. Ever thought about that? I would be the first on your list of readers. Hugs.

Brad said...

I'm just glad yours was found in time and successfully treated. You would think the author would have been better informed on such an important issue so central to her story.

fiwa said...

I read that book as well. I wasn't impressed either.

I'm so glad your story has a happy ending. Be well.

love,
fiwa

CRUSTYBEEF said...

you are 100% right!
regardless, I'm glad you're okay..and I think you should write a fiction book on a very nonfiction experience..you have the gift to do it better then this Jacobs I'd be willing to guess.

occasional bloating? is that common in stage1v Ov.Cancer?
disservice is true!