Last Chance Saloon

I accidentally read a cancer book. A funny, somewhat dirty cancer book.

Last Chance Saloon isn’t your ordinary Marian Keyes situation. Not only is it not about the wacky Walsh family, but it doesn’t even open with her usual quirky pizzazz. It’s about three lifelong friends — Tara, Katherine and Fintan — who have moved from small-town Ireland to big-city London. Tara is in a horrible live-in relationship with a very stingy man who often calls her fat (seriously); Katherine is a very buttoned-up-and-in-desperate-need-of-sex accountant; and Fintan is their fabulous gay best friend who winds up with cancer.

The cancer completely threw me off because I thought the story would just be about these three best friends finding/keeping love, but no. The second third of the book is all about his illness and how hopeless it gets — his family (who are not nearly as funny as the Walshes) comes to visit from Ireland, and his boyfriend (whose previous boyfriend died from AIDS) is completely beside himself, and it’s all very disconcerting without the humorous cushions Keyes uses in Anybody Out There. Fintan, assuming he is on his death-bed, decides to make requests of his friends to a) dump their horrible boyfriends (Tara) and b) hook up with a crush at work (Katherine), all in the name of his new life-is-too-short mentality, and that’s when things get kind of funny and dirty. There are a few twists and turns in those story lines that make them worth reading, but Tara’s and Katherine’s annoying naiveté reminded me all too much of Sophie Kinsella’s shopaholic character and I couldn’t help but be angry with them for getting involved in all this nonsense while their best friend is dying. The one thing I really liked, however (SPOILER ALERT), is that Keyes doesn’t do the cancer-patient-miraculously-cured-at-end-of-book thing; it ends with Fintan out of the hospital but continuing to go through treatments and hoping for the best. Which is all you can really do when it comes to The Big C.

When Fintan gets sick and they wait for weeks on end for test results that end up saying nothing and wait for doctors to say something definitive but never do, all while he turns into an angry, sick and unrecognizable version of himself, reminds me all too much of what happened with my dad. I rarely discuss the few months my dad was sick because he turned into someone I do not want to remember. I think the last time he was vaguely normal was when he and my mom drove down to school for my last dance show in March 2010; that was when I started to notice the weight loss/loss of appetite, but his spirits were still mostly up. Then it was all downhill. He yelled at my mom a lot if she couldn’t find something. He lost patience with me if I wasn’t helping him walk down the stairs the right way. If anyone besides me or my mom tried to help him they got a decent scolding too. When I was home for Easter he refused to sit with us in the dining room because he couldn’t eat or watch us eat. And by now you all know the hell that was my graduation. The cancer not only destroyed his physical health, it made him no longer him. In the book Fintan’s friends and family keep their moods up even in the face of his extreme anger and pain, and I guess my mom and I did that to the best of our abilities but it tore us apart to the point where we never, ever discuss those awful three and a half months. Only the before and after.

Part of the reason I am so bothered by the portrayal of cancer through certain movies, TV shows, books and charitable organizations is all the “life is short” and “live life to the fullest” crap. Cancer is ugly. It is horrendous. It is gut wrenching, it is maddening, it is earth shattering, it is confusing, it is depressing, and that’s just for the family and friends. I could not even begin to imagine how the person with cancer feels, the world of physical and emotional pain they wake up and go to bed with every day, the thought of no longer being around or no longer being the person they are. To me it is one of the worst possible things that can happen (and I realize I have a biased opinion), and I don’t like when anyone makes light of it.

Which is not to say I don’t recommend this book. I do, but I still recommend the other Marian Keyes books first. This one definitely got me ready for another serious out-of-my-comfort-zone book, so next up is Melissa Bank’s All Over Creation.

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