19 June 2012

The Fault in My Reading

I do wonder if I didn't enjoy "The Fault in Our Stars," by John Green, as much as others did because of my own history. It just so happens that my ex-boyfriend also had osteosarcoma as a teenager, also was something of a basketball hotshot before that, also was pretty pissed at people who spouted Bible verses and cross-stitched encouragements and all this well-meaning crap, also wanted to leave a mark beyond being a "professional sick person," and even won a local literary award for saying so.

(I also have an uncle on what I guess would be the other side of the living-with-cancer spectrum, the side that's had cancer in three different places, blogs about the chemo battle, and runs marathons to raise money for a cure.)

That's not to brag, really, but just to say that a lot of Hazel Grace and Augustus's frustrations are things I've heard before from someone who's been there and back: Hazel's worry that after her death, "they'd have nothing to say about me except that I fought heroically, as if the only thing I'd ever done was Have Cancer," has a sentiment I've heard expressed quite a bit. So, a lot of the time, reading this book was like staring into pitch-black night with someone you don't really talk to anymore and making that long and awkward silence as long, awkward, and maybe even painful as possible.

I don't know. I guess I can't accept this book based on the recommendation that it's an "alternative" look at life with cancer because it's been the most pragmatic and maybe even best way to look at it for a while now. I also didn't cry at the parts where you're "supposed" to cry, because either I'm a cold-hearted cynic, or, to borrow from John Irving, we are all of us terminal cases — not just the kids with cancer. If I felt sad, it was because someone's friend and child was suffering, not that someone's friend and child was suffering from cancer.

Beyond that, though, the male protagonist Augustus — whose similarities to Martin end above — was right out of my teenage daydreams and therefore unbelievable and sometimes even cheesy. Hazel, on the other hand, was a character I could get behind, and I loved how she (and, okay, Augustus too) was just darkly hilarious and sharp. Despite my cynicism, if you'd call it that, I did laugh out loud at a couple parts.

Perhaps what kept me from enjoying the book more was the constant self-check: if I find this book "inspirational," and go on to say so, I might only be just as misguided as the same people who find the cross-stitched encouragements "inspirational" and thereby fail at the actual empathy that people like Hazel and Augustus — people in general, really — really want.

I guess if there's anything I'd get out of this book, it's Hazel's idea about infinities being shorter or longer, but still infinite (actually, this is mathematically wrong; also, this link is a quote spoiler). It touches on the same "we are all terminal cases," "we all complete," "you got a lifetime; no more, no less," "death from above's still a death" idea that I think would improve relationships if more people had it. Having cancer does not make your life any more precious and special than that of a 120-year-old woman with two dozen grandkids. Your life is special because it is your life.