This surprisingly uplifting novel is centered around a “d-log” [as in drawing blog] started by Iris Massey, 33, after she was diagnosed with oat cell lung cancer, a very aggressive and highly malignant form of lung cancer. When she was got her diagnosis, she was given six months at most to live. She started the d-log to help her figure out what her life meant. She wrote:
“This whole time I thought my real life hadn’t started yet. Turns out that was my life. I have six months or so to make that okay, somehow.”
Iris signed up with the graphic storytelling site “dyingtoblog.com” and began writing. Excerpts from Iris’s d-log are interspersed throughout the rest of the book, which consists of emails and text messages as well as blog posts.
After Iris died, her boss (and also her good friend) at a brand management firm, Smith Simonyi, hires someone new as an assistant, a Stanford student named Carl Van Snyder Jr. When Carl was clearing out Iris’s desk, he found a printout of Iris’s blog titled “My Life’s First Draft: A Blog Turned into a Book by Iris Massey.” There was also a note asking Smith to get it published.
Smith contacts Jade, Iris’s 37-year-old sister, to give her some of Iris’s things and to talk to her about publishing the d-log. Jade is opposed to it and disgusted by the idea, calling it “cancer porn.” She is dealing with issues of her own that make her less than congenial. (Some of the emails throughout the book from Jade are directed to the TherapistAwayNetwork, or TAN. The TAN site suggests a prompt, like “What Have You Lost?” and the client takes it from there.)
Jade is also dealing with her grief over Iris, and in fact the author begins the book with a poem, putatively by Jade, that I thought was excellent:
Simon too is processing grief and anger, not only about Iris but about the lives and fates of his parents.
The question is, how will all of them work through this trying time? The interactions between Jade and Smith, affected by not only Iris’s blog but the humorous interjection of Carl into their lives, makes for a lovely ending, in spite of everything, and one which holds some surprises.
Discussion: Iris’s blog is by turns funny, poignant, insightful, clever, and sad. One of the posts I liked best was one in which she lists some thoughts, like “Wearing red boots today,” “Overheard a toddler say ‘when I was a child’” and “My bagel’s warm cream cheese” and over the top of it she writes in large letters: “NONE OF IT MATTERS AND I NEVER WANT IT TO END.”
Evaluation: This truly lovely story about making the best out of tragic situations is well worth reading.
Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2019