The narrator, Jennifer, is a young, eccentric, struggling writer who lives in a small northern California coastal town full of even more eccentric individuals. Her father, Wallace, a kind and generous intellectual, is diagnosed with a brain tumor and has to undergo surgery and postoperative radiation therapy. It is a story of a family dealing with the rage, grief, anxiety and sudden changes in everyone’s lives when a family member has a serious illness. This is a family knit well with love, tenderness, alcohol, and lots of humor (often black and exceedingly funny)--the diagnosis brings the family and small circle of friends even closer together.

The writing shifts easily between the specifics of observed details to general philosophizing about life and death. Despite the horror and uncertainty, Wallace notes: "I still believe that life is supposed to be good, and my life as a cancer patient can be good, lived one day at a time, and at some point it may be determined that I am no longer a cancer patient, and my life will be better for this scare we’re having. We’re all on borrowed time anyway, and it’s good to be reminded."


The book is dedicated to the author’s father, who died of brain cancer when the author was a struggling writer in her twenties. This is the author’s first novel, and as noted in her nonfiction books, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year (see this database) and Bird by Bird, was based on her experience. Lamott’s gift to her dying father was not only her love, but also the manuscript of this book.


Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Place Published

New York



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