Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Book of Dahlia

Summary: Meet Dahlia Finger: twenty-nine, depressed, whip-smart, occasionally affable, bracingly honest, resolutely single, and perennially unemployed. She spends her days stoned in front of the TV, watching the same movies repeatedly, like "a form of prayer." But Dahlia's so-called life is upended by an aggressive, inoperable brain tumor.

Stunned and uncomprehending, Dahlia must work toward reluctant emotional reckoning with the aid of a questionable self-help guide. She obsessively revisits the myriad heartbreaks, disappointments, rages, and regrets that comprise the story of her life -- from her parents' haphazard Israeli courtship to her kibbutz conception; from the role of beloved daughter and little sister to that of abandoned, suicidal adolescent; from an affluent childhood in Los Angeles to an aimless existence in the gentrified wilds of Brooklyn; from a girl with "options" to a girl with none -- convinced that cancer struck because she herself is somehow at fault.

Review: Cancer is not usually a humorous topic. The Book of Dahlia by Elsa Albert, however, manages to bring levity to this weighty subject matter.

While some readers may be put off by Albert’s sharp, gallows, humor, it should be noted that the author lost her brother, David, to a brain tumor when he was twenty nine and she was nineteen. Hence, she knows the delicate terrain she’s traversing.

Dahlia Finger is not a saintly, dying, heroine like Little Women's Beth. Rather Dahlia is profane slacker who has been informed that she has a terminal brain tumor. Dahlia copes with this devastating news: “the way stewardesses pantomime emergency protocol: bored, distracted, disconnected, a mask of seriousness and duty over a deep valley of uncertainty and – buried way, way, way down – fear.”

Albert, who dedicates The Book of Dahlia to her late brother, states that she was trying to honor him with it. In my opinion, she has succeeded!

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