Published by: Mandel Vilar Press
Imprint: Mandel Vilar Press
- Published: May 2023
By turns somber and funny but above all provocative, Elizabeth Benedict’s Rewriting Illness: A View of My Own is a most unconventional memoir. With wisdom, self-effacing wit, and the story-telling skills of a seasoned novelist, she brings to life her cancer diagnosis and committed hypochondria. As she discovers multiplying lumps in her armpit, she describes her initial terror, interspersed with moments of self-mocking levity as she indulges in “natural remedies,” among them chanting Tibetan mantras, drinking shots of wheat grass, and finding medicinal properties in chocolate babka. She tracks the progression of her illness from muddled diagnosis to debilitating treatment as she gathers sustenance from her family and an assortment of urbane, ironic friends, including her fearless “cancer guru.”
In brief, explosive chapters with startling titles – “Was it the Krazy Glue?” and “Not Everything Scares the Shit out of Me” – Benedict investigates existential questions: Is there a cancer personality? Can trauma be passed on generationally? Can cancer be stripped of its warlike metaphors? How do doctors’ own fears influence their comments to patients? Is there a gendered response to illness? Why isn’t illness one of literature’s great subjects? And delving into her own history, she wonders if having had children would have changed her life as a writer and hypochondriac. Post diagnosis, Benedict asks, “Which fear is worse: the fear of knowing or the reality of knowing? (164)”
Throughout, Benedict’s humor, wisdom, and warmth jacket her fears, which are personal, political, and ultimately global, when the world is pitched into a pandemic. Amid weighty concerns and her all-consuming obsession with illness, her story is filled with suspense, secrets, and even the unexpected solace of silence.
A New York City cancer memoir informed by Susan Sontag and Nora Ephron. Benedict shows, the best doctors still struggle with communication, and even the empowered can lose their voices in front of the lab coat. The author mostly resists the standard tropes of illness memoirs and compiles her thoughts not in chapters but brief episodes, which allows her to explore the range of her reactions to the disease she spent a life fearing. She invokes both the writing and silence of Sontag and Ephron; her cancer support group; and sometimes tamps down the emotional intensity of her experiences with analysis or humor. Throughout, there are a host of deeply moving moments; e.g., sharing her diagnosis with her adult stepdaughter or wrestling with the death of a close friend.... A fine antidote to anodyne cancer accounts. –Kirkus Reviews
"By turns witty, vivid, and harrowing, Rewriting Illness reads as though Nora Ephron had written a book called, ‘I Feel Bad About My Tumor.’ Especially good on the abrupt, stopped time feeling when the flow of life - city life, complicated life, sentient life - collides with illness." –Thomas Beller, J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist (Winner New York City Book Award for Biography/Memoir), How to Be a Man: Scenes from a Protracted Boyhood and the forthcoming Lost in the Game: A Book about Basketball.
"It's not courage unless you're afraid, and Elizabeth Benedict has courage - and fear - in abundance, in this frank, riveting and often hilarious memoir. If you've had cancer, or love someone who's had or has it, or are just plain afraid of it -- that's to say pretty much everyone -- then you'll want to read this book." ~ Claire Messud, The Emperor's Children; The Woman Upstairs; and The Burning Girl.
’Memoirs of serious illness are often good suspense stories, and this one is a page-turner. I read Elizabeth Benedict's Rewriting Illness in a single sitting and finished it infinitely more knowledgeable about what it means to be diagnosed with cancer. Here is someone who’s figured out not only how to think about the unthinkable but how to turn her experience into an honest, gripping, and genuinely humorous story. It’s the kind of inspiring book you want to share with all the important people in your life.” -- Sigrid Nunez, What Are You Going Through and The Friend, A Novel (2018 National Book Award for Fiction)
"I thought I wasn't a fearful person, and then I read Rewriting Illness. Sleeping alone in the country (not the city--lots of people around to hear me scream). Picking up my car late at night in a parking lot. Walking alone in the woods -- when do I even do that? My fears aren't particularly rational -- how many ax murderers are there, and what are the chances one will cross my path? Very small (knock on wood). Elizabeth's Benedict's beautiful, brave memoir about her own fears, especially fear of illness, which was eventually realized and had to be overcome, has so much to say about rational and irrational anxieties and the way they haunt women and deprive us of the larger life we crave." --Katha Pollitt, Learning to Drive and Other Life Stories; Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics and Culture.
“Rewriting Illness is a superbly intelligent and surprisingly entertaining memoir about what happens when a lifelong fear of illness collides at last with illness itself. Elizabeth Benedict applies her formidable talents as a novelist to bringing to life the scenes and characters from her annus horribilis dealing with lymphoma. She writes with an honesty and a sly sense of humor about herself that make this book hard to put down.” --Stephen McCauley, author of My Ex-Life
"The moment every woman dread of finding a lump where no lump should be is the jumping off point for Elizabeth Benedict's startling, self-aware, and wickedly funny memoir. Whether she's describing her sister teaching her Tibetan chants to calm her nerves, the big city doctors who dismiss her concerns, or her problems with Susan Sontag's cancer metaphor critique, Benedict brings a novelist's deft storytelling to a narrative we think we already know. It's full of drama, humor, essential lessons for dealing with doctors, crushing vulnerability -- and wonderfully -- plenty of hope." --Mara Liasson, NPR, National Political Correspondent
"I devoured Elizabeth Benedict's beautiful book in one sitting--truly couldn’t put it down. I’m moved and astonished by how she made her cancer story universal, even for someone who is not yet, knock wood, a member of that club. Brava for this forthright and fascinating account.” -- Betsy West, documentary director (RBG, Julia, Gabby Giffords Won't Back Down)
"Nuanced, thoughtful, with not a cliché in sight, Elizabeth Benedict’s memoir is impossible to put down because the rich inner life of the writer—this excellent writer—is so compelling. The story she tells—vividly, in fits and starts, as it happened--is a reflection of encountering the unpredictable vicissitudes of life, and its one certainty."-- Katherine Dalsimer, Dept. of Psychiatry, Weill Cornell Medical College, Virginia Woolf: Becoming a Writer and Female Adolescence Psychoanalytic Reflections on Literature