Australian writer Cory Taylor was diagnosed with untreatable melanoma at the age of 60.  In a few short weeks she wrote this memoir, exploring what she was feeling and what is missing in modern medical care of the dying.  She died at the age of 61, a few months after this book appeared in her native country.  

The book has three parts. Part I, Cold Feet, starts right off discussing a euthanasia drug purchased online from China. Taylor’s melanoma has metastasized to many parts of her body, including her brain. It was first diagnosed in 2005, a malignant mole behind her right knee. In the decade of her cancer, she has tried three drug trials, thought about suicide, and received palliative care. She has harsh words for doctors who don’t mention death, a psychologist who doesn’t help her “Adjustment disorder,” and medicine in general that sees death as a failure.      
Taylor feels anger, sadness, and loneliness. She finds comfort and camaraderie in a group called Exit, where there’s frank discussion about death. She writes, “We’re like the last survivors on a sinking ship, huddled together for warmth” (p. 14). She has neither religious training nor interest in it. She became a writer late in life, and now she sees a clear purpose for her “final book.” She writes, “I am making a shape for my death, so that I, and others can see it clearly. And I am making it bearable for myself” (p. 31).  

Although scared and suffering, she is reluctant to commit suicide because of the impact on her husband, two sons, and friends. Dying, she writes, “is by far the hardest thing I have ever done, and I will be glad when it’s over” (p. 49).

Part II, Dust and Ashes, describes her earlier life with her mother and father. Her parents were unhappy together and eventually divorced. In her life review, Taylor searches for meaning in the influences on her life. Her family moved often in Australia, also to Fiji and Africa. She feels rootless herself, traveling to England and Japan. Both of her parents die with dementia; she was with neither one at their ends.  
Part III, Endings and Beginnings, goes further back to her childhood. She reflects on an idyllic time in Fiji, her discovery of the power of language and writing, and various trials of growing up. She worries that she wasn’t vigilant enough in checking her skin, thereby allowing her disease to become fatal. She feels autonomy in having the Chinese euthanasia drug, but her life is clearly closing in. She says she weighs less than her neighbor’s dog. The last page of the book imagines her death as a cinematic montage, ending with “Fade to black” (p. 141).  


This is a moving and informative book. Taylor’s voice is personal, intelligent, and captivating. Her style is varied but always deft and engaging. She shares her thoughts and feelings frankly on many topics: dying, of course, but also growing up, coming of age, seeing her parents fight, and the differences of privileged Australians and the aboriginal natives. By the end of the book, we feel we know her intimately and are sad and sorry that her death must come, ending her writing career and her close and rewarding family life that contrasts with her birth family.  

Taylor criticizes medicine for its ignorance about death and Australian laws that make euthanasia difficult. She regrets that she did not have rituals to deal with her parents’ deaths but believes that her husband and sons are better prepared for her demise.  

Her home nursing service provided a volunteer biographer. One came weekly for three months to interview her and write up her life. Taylor found much pleasure in this process, but the woman suddenly died. Taylor and others were shocked. Taylor concludes, “A slow death, like mine, has that one advantage. You have a lot of time to talk, to tell people how you feel, to try to make sense of the whole thing, of the life that is coming to a close, both for yourself and for those who remain” (p. 28). In the end, Taylor wrote her own story for a much wider audience that can read and profit from her direct and probing account.  


Tin House Books

Place Published

Portland, Oregon and Brooklyn, New York



Page Count