cover image Bald in the Land of Big Hair: A True Story

Bald in the Land of Big Hair: A True Story

Joni Rodgers. HarperCollins, $24 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-06-019588-5

At first blush, a lighthearted romp through the horrors of chemotherapy seems like a stretch. Yet that is just what Rodgers has attempted with considerable success in this memoir of her bout with cancer. Even Rodgers admits, ""I didn't find cancer all that funny, especially at the time."" Then why the comic touch? If her previous novels--Crazy for Trying (1996) and Sugar Land (1999)--are any indication, she delights in creating over-the-top characters whose idiosyncrasies highlight the world's absurdities. And nothing is quite so existentially absurd as a reminder that you are about to die: ""You stop living and start staying alive."" The comic tone enables Rodgers to render the ordeal without monochromatic grimness. While essentially a story about cancer and its implications, the vehicle is Rodgers herself. She portrays herself as a rebellious, somewhat loopy woman who, almost despite herself, managed to find professional success, marry a good husband and have two kids. Into this setting comes an intruder in the form of a lump in her neck and a puzzling loss of energy: she has a virulent lymphoma that requires aggressive treatment, including chemotherapy. While Rodgers's attempt to convey serious business lightly is commendable, the constant wisecracking keeps the reader at an emotional distance. And when she does turn serious, the insights are pedestrian: ""Truly, I promise you, grace is real, God is here, and in the end, everything is going to be all right."" Fortunately, Rodgers survived her ordeal. The memoir that sprang from it, though, is stronger on anecdote than insight. Agent, Laurie Harper. (Feb.) Forecast: Despite its flaws, Rodgers's book will appeal to women, especially those who enjoy feel-good, strong-women-discovering-themselves memoirs. It's the stuff of book-group discussions, and with strong marketing by HarperCollins--a five-city author tour and a 50-city national radio campaign--sales are sure to be brisk.