Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Review: Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagan

You know the conventional wisdom that bad things come in threes? Sometimes you don't need all three because the magnitude of the first two things make a third thing simply extraneous. This is true for the main character in Camille Pagan's charming new novel, Life and Other Near-Death Experiences.

Even perpetually sunny, positive thinking Libby Miller can't find anything good about hearing the word malignant, especially combined with the words rare and aggressive. Her mother died of cancer when she was young and there is no way she's going to put her beloved husband, brother, and father through the hell of watching her deteriorate under the duel attack of the disease and chemo. But that's for the future. In the short term, all she wants to do is go home and have her husband, who she has loved for half her life, comfort her. When she gets home, though, she cannot collapse in Tom's arms because he has a bombshell of his own to drop: he's gay. So not only does she have a rare, aggressive form of cancer, but her marriage is over. That's quite a one two punch.

Wanting to escape the life she's been living, Libby decides to sell their furniture and their condo. She quits her job as the assistant to a truly impossible boss and she decides to run off to Mexico. Except that Mexico requires a passport and hers is expired. Having only shared the disintegration of her marriage and not her diagnosis with her dad, he suggests she go to Puerto Rico instead, to a place that he and her mother had gone to once and truly loved. Divested of all her things and any real ties to Chicago, she hops on a plane and heads off, still keeping the secret of her cancer and her decision to forgo treatment. When the small propeller plane taking her to the island of Vieques makes an emergency crash landing after hitting a bird, she discovers, to her surprise, that she doesn't want to die. But she still isn't ready to face her scary and uncertain future. She's retreating once again into what her twin brother, Paul, has dubbed LibbyLand, a place of denial and cheer, and what better place to inhabit it than in the beautiful and magical Vieques with the alternately frustrating and appealing sexy pilot, Shiloh, who got her there mostly safely?

This is very much about the unpredictability of life and the idea that the last page of our stories isn't written until it's written and not a one of us can know when that will be. Our only control comes in the pages before the end so we should reach out and grab all the happiness we can. Libby's character is trying to cram in as much goodness as she can before the end but it seems she's already written her end and left out the most important part of the pages before it: the people who love you. As a character, she's obstinate and endearing both. Her decisions are based on what she thinks she knows but are really about herself and her own fear of what she's facing. And having been given a virtual death sentence, she's afraid to live and to love in whatever time she's got left. Her brother Paul, whose wry and forthright presence comes into the novel at exactly the right moments when Libby is too content to allow herself to become isolated, helps provide another much needed perspective on Libby's diagnosis.  Sexy pilot Shiloh grows from a cardboard character to someone with real insight and caring. It doesn't hurt that he helps Libby heal from the betrayal of her marriage too. The tone of the novel is actually quite light given the fact that the main character is dying, but as Shiloh tells her, life itself is a near-death experience. Pagan handles the delicate issue of how cancer impacts not only the person herself but also those around her very well. She offers balanced reasoning for choosing or not choosing to pursue treatment. The novel is lovely and funny and dire and hopeful and the uncertain ending, with Libby's own last page still unwritten, is just right for everything that has gone before. A fast read, it will make you think about what you should be doing every day in your own life and relationships, knowing that we all have a last page out there to be written one day.

For more information about Camille Pagan and the book, take a look at her web site, her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. I've seen this novel around. That's a pretty tough one-two punch for the main character. If I had that happen I think maybe I'd live traveling around too --- like to Hawaii and California. It does sound a bit charming.

  2. Funny, hopeful, dire, and lovely sounds like a fantastic combination!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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