January 05, 2016

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences - Camille Pagan

Lake Union Publishing, November 1, 2015.

Three Stars

Libby Miller’s extreme optimism is a little over the top in this novel – but that’s what makes it so much fun. I don’t usually like reading the kind of light humour that Pagan uses in this book, but it’s actually pretty clever for the most part, and only occasionally crosses over into slapstick territory. Libby’s adventures actually made me laugh out loud, even though I tried to resist – especially her ridiculous euphemisms for swear words.

When Libby is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, she refuses to acknowledge her doctor’s explanations of treatment and leaves his office in denial. She rushes home to the comfort of her husband, who chooses the same day to admit that he is gay. This paragraph may sound spoilery, but these events happen in the first few pages – the remainder of the novel deals with the aftermath, as Libby tries and fails and tries again to live with these two major blows to the life she knew. There were some borderline offensive parts (such as Libby being complimented on her thigh gap, because she is so skinny from being too sick to eat) but ultimately it is not meant to be a serious story of a woman overcoming cancer. It is light and fluffy, and in the end it is optimistic about Libby’s circumstances. The rest is taken with a grain of salt.

Libby is happy, cheerful, and sees the good in everyone and everything – but we eventually learn that her perpetual optimism is a mask. It is a coping mechanism that she slipped into after her mother died of cancer when Libby was a child. Now, with circumstances repeating in her own life, she tries once again to ignore reality and live in ignorant bliss. When reality forces her to pay attention, she must learn to cope with the negative aspects of life. As she finally figures out, “life is a near death experience” (Loc. 1475) and we all have to accept that eventually.

By giving up on the superficial things that she thought were important, Libby does find happiness. The love story was predictable, but still fun. I felt that the ending wrapped up much too quickly and easily – although I did think it might go in a darker direction. The minor characters were entertaining, and they were a big part of Libby realizing that no one lives in isolation. Even in death, she must consider the wishes of her friends and family. While the “moral of the story” was a bit heavy-handed, this was still a fun, light, enjoyable read.

I received this book for free from Lake Union Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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