The Topic of Cancer

Fromm, Pete

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Willms, Janice
  • Date of entry: May-12-2003


Mickey, widowed but one year, and his young son, Duncan, drive East from their home in Wyoming, to vacation with Mickey's family on the Jersey shore. As the story develops, the reader learns that Carol, who died from ovarian cancer, was a westerner, and that Mickey is being tempted to return to the east coast with Duncan and reestablish life there.

The two arrive at the vacation cottage very early in the morning; Mickey needs to be with the ocean and what it means to him; Duncan, who has never seen an ocean, rushes to the experience. The child becomes fearful, as he looks at the vast expanse, calls up the idea of sharks, asks if his Mom waits at the "topic" of Cancer for them. The tension develops when Mickey chooses to swim to assuage his own grief, not realizing that his venture terrifies Duncan. The reunion of father and son points to a new understanding of what it means and will mean to each to go forward without Carol.


This painful, but insightful, study of the relationship between a young widower and his son during the early stages of adjusting to the absence of a clearly deeply loved spouse and mother is both poignant and encouraging. The images of blazing low-horizon morning sun as ovary, the use of Topic (Tropic) of Cancer as a metaphor for the missing mother's voyage into the unknown, the child's mythical fear of the unknown embodied in the imagined sharks threatening his swimming father all work in synchrony to create a sensitive exploration of the special features of loss of parent, loss of spouse.

Primary Source

Dry Rain


Lyons & Burford

Place Published

New York



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