Friday, August 10, 2018

Book Review: The Bucket List

By Jami Deise

While breast cancer isn’t the leading cause of death for women—heart disease is—we fear it like no other disease. Perhaps because it’s seen as a uniquely female disease (it’s not—my father and my uncle both had it), perhaps because it happens to a body part that physically marks us as female. I had my first mammogram at 37; when I told my gynecologist it felt like everyone I knew was getting that diagnosis, she said it was time, and I’ve had one every year since. And while every film save one was clean, finding out that my former state, Maryland, was a breast cancer hot spot helped reinforce the decision to leave.

Thirty-seven felt young; I can’t imagine dealing with these issues at 25. In her follow-up to her 2016 book about New York millennials who magically become pretty (The Regulars), Georgia Clark brings us another New York millennial, Lacey, a 25-year-old who just tested positive for the BCRA1 mutation, meaning the question of breast cancer is not an if but a when. Her question actually is, does she get a preventative mastectomy and breast reconstruction, or wait and see what happens? Her mother died at 31; her older sister Mara, with a daughter of her own, doesn’t want to get the test at all. It’s heady stuff, and in a less sure hand, it would have been a Lifetime movie or weepy women’s fiction. But The Bucket List is, as Clark describes it, “a sexy mastectomy book.” Lacey is much more than her mutation; she has a full, rich, complicated millennial life, and Clark explores all its aspects.

I admit, I was overwhelmed and not as drawn in as I wanted to be in the beginning of the book. Lacey is, fittingly enough, a “trend forecaster” for a fashion publication in New York; she’s also working on a shopping app with a friend. Clark fully immerses readers in the fashion world and with her fast-paced, present-tense, millennial voice, there were times I found it hard to keep up. When Lacey decides to have the surgery, she creates a bucket list for her breasts, with items like threesomes, sex with a woman, and topless sunbathing. At times, the diagnosis and upcoming surgery practically disappear while Lacey deals with work, friends, competing love interests, etc. At other times, it felt like the diagnosis and surgery dilemma were metaphors as well as plot points—with the country and the world being in the shape that it’s in, don’t all millennials feel they’re living in a ticking time bomb, even if it’s not in their own bodies?

When Clark gets the story out of Fashion Week and Lacey puts the bucket list on the back burner to pursue her life and her health, things fall into place more tightly and the story finds its rhythm. Lacey’s biggest physical problem is BCRA1, but her biggest emotional problem is that she would rather lie to the people she’s closest to instead of telling the truth and dealing with the fall-out. This doesn’t make her an unlikeable character; it adds to her complexity.

The Regulars was one of my favorite books from 2016; the only flaw I found was an ending that was too neat. The Bucket List also delivers an ending that’s wrapped in a tidy little bow; so much so I’d call it a fairy tale ending. It’ll please folks who enjoy books with happily-ever-afters; I felt it was a simple ending that didn’t work for a character who had so much going on in her life. Still, I enjoy Clark’s depiction of New York millennials, and I look forward to her next book.

Thanks to Atria for the book in exchange for an honest review.

1 comment: