Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Review: Between Me and the River by Carrie Host

Carrie Host wasn't even forty and her youngest child was still a baby when she got the news that would change her whole family's life. She had carcinoid tumors throughout her abdomen and on her lungs. And this particular type of rare cancer doesn't respond well to radiation or chemotherapy. Her odds of survival were quite low but she wasn't going to give up without a fight. This memoir is her tale of the terrible journey that cancer took her on, the treatments she underwent, and the toll it took not only on her but on her family as well. It is the powerful story of an awful ordeal. An emotional tale, as you would expect the memoir of a woman ravaged by cancer and taken to the brink and back, there are also moments of humor interspersed with the bleakness. And the emotional insights that Host offers are honest, revealing, and probably quite helpful both for families and for individuals facing a cancer diagnosis.

Host pulls no punches in detailing the ravages that her body experienced. She confronts the heartbreak of her baby not knowing who she was after one extended stretch of time at the Mayo Clinic. And she is candid about the effect her cancer diagnosis had on her friendships, watching some friends drift away right when she needed normalcy the most. She was incredibly lucky in her family relationships and in her financial situation as both of these enabled her to search for the best, most cutting edge treatment and afforded her the time to pursue it.

In the book, Host has chosen the extended metaphor of cancer as a river, alternately raging to pull her under, deceptively calm, or quietly flowing along. Initially this extended metaphor worked but it eventually became intrusive and overly used without a hint of subtlety. In her initial chapters, she hadn't quite settled on the metaphor she wanted to use and used many different ones, which caused a small bit annoyance on my part as this should have been cleaned up in the editing process. Once she settled into her narrative and focused on the narrative itself, her story became more compelling and moving. It didn't really need the current of the river to carry the reader along. And as a registered grump, I have to mention that the grammatically incorrect title drives me batty. A totally personal reaction, I'm sure, but one I cannot help nor one which I can ignore. An emotional read, this needed tighter editing and excising but was ultimately a fine read.


  1. Glad you enjoyed this memoir. I'd like to read it but now is not the right time (tough subject) :(

  2. I'll have to look for this one. We used to want a talking parrot, before we did some research and found out how much work it takes (my favorite description was that parrots are at least as much work as dogs, except "dogs with wings." And then there's the whole longer-than-a-human-lifespan thing.

  3. sounds like a compelling read despite the flaws you noted. cancer is a difficult and painful topic that touches many families--mine included. it's not always easy to read a memoir of this nature.

    i enjoyed your review but will take a pass on this novel only because of the fact that i'm living a variation of this story in my own life.

  4. I really need to review this. I read it a while ago now!


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