“Life and Other Near-Death Experiences” is the rather humorous journey one woman takes, both literally and figuratively, when she discovers she has cancer. I know it sounds weird, a book that’s meant to be a funny account of a woman diagnosed with a rare cancer while her marriage dissolves around her? But it’s true! Often these kinds of books (that a lot of people call chik-lit or women’s fiction, but I don’t like those “titles”) follow a similar format that is very Lifetime Movie: something truly awful happens, and then someone makes it worse, and then the main character goes on a path of panic fueled self-discovery. Which is what the main character, Libby does. But Pagan writes it in a way that has a unique brand of humor that won’t leave you emotionally drained and devastated at the end of every chapter.
Cancer is a sensitive subject, so this is one of those books that, by its very nature, you are either going to love or hate. If cancer is a trigger for you, then do yourself a favor, and don’t read this book. The way Pagan handles the subject matter may be offensive if the light-hearted tone when it comes to cancer and cancer treatment is not one you agree with, or appreciate, which is totally fine, just save yourself the time and skip this short, faced-paced book.
Ok so, back to the book at hand. I found Pagan’s writing of Libby and the situation she found herself in to be genuinely entertaining, she deals with traumatic experiences in a way that I think a lot of us would, whether we would admit it or not—she runs away. But this isn’t a denial kind of run away (well, it is a bit), it’s more of, if cancer is going to steal her life, she is going to live her last months like a Spanish Soap Opera; on a beach in Puerto Rico where she falls in love, and rediscovers the will to live.
Pagan does a great job of writing Libby as this spastic—and frankly manic—woman when everything starts going wrong, and the author’s writing style fits with that mentality. I never laughed out loud at any parts, but I was smiling and felt like I had just run a marathon with how quickly Libby decides to change pretty much everything about her life early on. Then as Libby “matures” and comes to accept what’s happening, let’s go, and rediscovers a will to fight and live for the things she loves, the tempo of the book seems to slow as Libby accepts the things around her, and begins hunkering down. It was a subtle shift, one I didn’t fully appreciate until a day after I finished the book. That doesn’t mean that, at times, I wasn’t super annoyed by Libby, and how she treated people around her, but I thought it was genuine to her character so it became easier to forgive.
I won’t spoil anything, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending as it seemed to undermine major plot points the book brings up early on, and sometimes the characters felt more like caricatures then fully fleshed people, and they ended up having a diction pattern that made most of them sound the same. And for as minor as that sounds, I found these elements spoiling a lot of the emotional journey and believability I had in either the people Pagan introduces the reader (and Libby) to, or the overall situation. But, given cancer is one of those topics that is so easy to make overly melodramatic because it’s “easy” to do, I appreciated an author trying to do something different with the otherwise extremely heavy subject matter, and for that, I give this book a solid 4 stars.
Click the book images to see them on Amazon!