Sunday, July 5, 2015

If you could ask for anything...

All You Could Ask For by Mike Greenberg

I love this book on so many levels! Until I started researching for this blog post, I was unaware that 100% of all profits from this book were being donated to The V Foundation for Cancer Research. I don't know about you, but I am always more than happy to pay for something when I know the money will work for those who need it, in whatever way. Though I never watch TV or Sports, I am impressed with Greenberg's motivation to write this book, as well as his willingness to donate the proceeds to a good cause. Knowing that he had a real-life close friend who died at a young age from cancer as inspiration also makes this read more poignant and meaningful. Here is his announcement. I don't know that I would have ever purposefully looked for this book if I hadn't responded to the hype about Greenberg's newest release, My Father's Wives, and read and reviewed it as part of the Literary Wives Online Book Discussion group. (It was my interest that spurred us to select it as our June 2015 read.) 

Having met Jane Green this past spring, and being fairly certain we have similar reading preferences, I heartily agree with her sentiments regarding Mike Greenberg's writing: 
  Mike is as clever, astute, and perceptive as he is brilliant. He has beautifully pulled off the three female voices in this novel...with tremendous wisdom and insight. 

I love the way Greenberg allows the reader to get to know each of these three women so very well before we learn how they become connected and provide such valuable social support for each other! Though you might imagine this could be a depressing read given the fact that people are enduring cancer, I did not find it so. In fact, I found it wonderfully uplifting in many ways. Firstly, it demonstrates that although you may feel "alone" in your daily face-to-face personal life, technology affords the ability to create and maintain social connections. Secondly, there are many varied perspectives, reactions, and treatment regimens that work for different individuals diagnosed with cancer. Thirdly, learn to advocate for your own comfort level and research all possible options before committing to any treatment plan, whether for cancer or any other diagnosis. If the first medical professional doesn't provide options, get a second opinion, and/or go online and do research by connecting with others who can educate you and broaden your horizons and understanding.

Brooke is the woman who is giving her husband naked pictures of herself for his 40th birthday. Good for her! I don't believe I could have ever done that! :) And I guess men are appreciative of such things, but for me personally, I guess it's enough that he gets naked for me when it counts! ;) The process by which she considered various locations in her home as possible settings for these risque photos was humorous, as she finally decided she was uncomfortable with any of them! As Brooke says:
  ...we both know who wears the pants in our house: My husband does. But there is equally little doubt which of us really has the power. (18)
As Brooke prepares for her second wedding/renewal of wedding vows with her husband in honor of his fortieth birthday,
  This is the very best day of my entire life. (116)

Oh, and the betrayal that Samantha must endure at the hands of her new husband! Although ultimately, I would be grateful to have learned of such deceit within only two days rather than after the 20 years of my own marriage! But we don't get to choose.)
  [Robert] has an amazing ability to be sensible and romantic in the same conversation. I'd never met a man who could be either one of those, much less both. How could I not marry him? (9)
Ah, but a politician is all about charisma and charm! And he is a newly elected Lieutenant Governor! 
...I think the only person I've never felt sorry for in my whole life is me. 
  Why would I? I was born with every advantage imaginable. (23)
But as we see with each of these three women, that doesn't mean your life will necessarily be without many challenges, just as it is for others... Samantha has remained in Hawaii following her honeymoon debaucle, training for an upcoming race competition, returning to the 'extreme' athletic regimen from the past. Upon completion of packing her belongings the day prior to the race, wondering where her life will go from here, her father surprises her by showing up at her hotel room,
  "You didn't think I was going to let you do this thing all by yourself, did you?"
  I put my face directly in the center of his chest and let him hold me, which he did, tightly....Very few things in life are perfect. This was close enough. In a way, this was the best moment in my entire life. (118) 
She had received very little emotional support from her father in the past, so this was a breakthrough for their relationship. 
Speaking of betrayal, we now go to the third of this trio, Katherine. Who was also betrayed by her ex-husband, Phillip, for whom she still works! Yes, you read that correctly! Unbelievable... Katherine has a mantra she recites while breathing in a controlled pattern to calm her mind and 'be in the now':
  May I be filled with loving-kindness
  May I be well
  May I be peaceful and at ease
  May I be happy
I may have to adopt that! However, it seems Katherine could use a bit of positivism:
  They say it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
  Well, how fucking stupid are they?
  That expression, or the sentiment behind it, is one of those things we've made up to make ourselves feel better. (24)
Rather cynical? Perhaps. Though it may contain some uncomfortable truth. 

On being single, Katherine muses:
  I wouldn't say I'm looking for a man. 
  I wouldn't let you say I am, either. (52)
  What I do not accept is the antiquated notion that somehow I am less of a woman--or less of a person--because I do not have a man in my life. It is not as though I have never been with a man. I have been with more than my share, both before and after Phillip, and aside from the time I Maced one who wanted to marry me there have been very few catastrophes. (53)
Hah! Really? Oh, the description of that event was hysterical. I was definitely laughing out loud and doing so again now as I reread it! 

An anonymous text arrives on Katherine's assistant, Marie's, phone:
  Phil's marriage broke up, he moved out, rumor is SHE was cheating on HIM! 
...I knew it was true. Phillip's marriage was over. She was cheating on him. And, obviously, everybody knew it. In its own way, that's every bit as bad as having to give a horse a hand job. (119)
OMG! Now that's a visual I might not have needed! :)
  So let's see: Phillip left me for Holly nineteen years ago and married her less than a year after that, so for eighteen years I have waited for these words. I have dreamt of them, fantasized about them, prayed for them, written them in ink, chanted them in meditation, spoken them aloud daily, and now they were staring me in the face...and the way they made me feel was a revelation more powerful than I have ever had in a church or a conference room or the front row of a concert. 
  They made me sad. 
  There was no joy, no euphoria, no in your face. I had not won anything. (119-120)
Yes, wishing bad things upon others is never a good thing, and in the end, does it really net you anything if it happens? No...just a revelation that it was never about you, as happens for Katherine.

After being fixed up on a blind date with a man looking to be many years her senior on the evening of her fortieth birthday, Katherine decides to take a much needed vacation, dragging her ever-faithful assistant, Marie, with her. She travels to Colorado where she meets Stephen and Florence, who change her life, much for the better. 
...The horizon was limitless, just like my life, filled with endless possibilities. And that, I realized, is the answer to the question, the one about what makes life worth living. It's about all the wonderful things that might happen, if only we'd let them. And I knew, right then and there, that someday I would look back and say that this was the best day of my entire life. (124)

At the end of Part I all three women profess to be at the perfect point of their lives. However, Part II begins with Samantha's initial posting on 
  I think I should tell you who I am, because it's important to me that you know that I'm not just a cancer patient. I hope no one takes that the wrong way. I know you're all cancer patients, too, and I don't want to minimize that, I really don't, but that's not who I am, just as I assume it's not who you are. I assume you're all somebody just like me, somebody's daughter, somebody's sister, maybe somebody's wife. (127)
I felt she was trying to avoid being identified as solely a "cancer patient." I could relate to wanting to retain your own identity, though I have known people who become a walking talking billboard for cancer once they're diagnosed, so I guess each patient has a different coping strategy for a cancer diagnosis, as with anything else. 

Brooke spends the night following her lumpectomy musing on,
  Tomorrow I go back. Tonight I have a babysitter downstairs with the kids. I called and asked her to spend the night, told her I think I have the flu. I wish I did. I never thought I'd wish that, but right now the flu sounds so good, so normal. I feel so far away form normal. I have no idea when I can expect to feel normal again. I want so badly to feel normal. I've never wanted anything more. I want yesterday, and most of today.
  Can anyone here tell me how to get that? (142)
Her husband is out of town on business that night and she didn't feel she could cope with caring for her children without going into hysterics. I could understand that feeling of helplessness and grief for what may be a very much shortened future with her family.

Katherine's confessional post to
  In the dog-eat-dog world in which I've lived my whole life, I have never allowed myself either of two things that I now regret. The first is weakness. I have never allowed myself any weakness at all. I have always felt that showing any sign of vulnerability would destroy me completely, and as a result I have lived in a rather solitary world. The other is that I've never allowed myself to get over the one man who broke my heart. Perhaps the two are related. Perhaps allowing myself to get past him would have opened the door to a new man, a real relationship, and you can't have one of those without allowing yourself to be vulnerable...

Perhaps what I most admire about all three of these women is their self-awareness through their experiences. I believe this book would be a fantastic read for anyone, but especially those facing an illness, and deciding what to do in the aftermath of a diagnosis. Among these three, very different treatments were selected: a double mastectomy, a lumpectomy with no follow-up, and an all-out treatment via traditional western medical protocol. Do these types of books interest you? 


  1. It sounds like I might like this one better than his newest. Thanks for reviewing it, Lynn!

    1. Thanks, Naomi! I did feel this subject matter might appeal to more people overall than My Father's Wives. Thought it may have resonated so much for me since I have had quite a few relatives and friends diagnosed with cancer of one kind or another. You never know! :)