cover image The Undying: A Meditation on Modern Illness

The Undying: A Meditation on Modern Illness

Anne Boyer. Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-374-27934-9

Poet Boyer (Garments Against Women) returns with a beautiful memoir about her battle with breast cancer. The book covers Boyer’s 2014 diagnosis at age 41, her grueling chemotherapy treatments, and her double mastectomy, delving into the fear, suffering, and loneliness that cancer brings. Cancer makes “the boundaries of our bodies break,” Boyer writes. “Everything we were supposed to keep inside of us now seems to fall out.... We can’t stop crying. We emit foul odors. We throw up.” Boyer criticizes the “capitalist medical universe” in which women are given “drive-through mastectomies,” and she puts into sharp focus the economic toll cancer takes on women of limited means. A single mother with no savings, Boyer had to return to her teaching job 10 days after her surgery because her medical leave had run out; she was so weak that friends had to carry her books. This memoir lays bare Boyer’s pain and exhaustion and is stacked with revelatory observations: “There is no more tragic piece of furniture than a bed,” she writes, “how it falls so quickly from the place we make love to the place we might die in.” Boyer’s gorgeous language elevates this artful, piercing narrative well above the average medical memoir. (Sept.) [em] [/em]