The Boy in the Mirror by Tom Preston (2015)
Immersion, we learn in introductory linguistics, is a mysterious and effective way to become conversant in a language. Want to know German? Land yourself in small town in Germany where few speak in English, and don't go with a friend - no crutches. Eventually, after a period of confusion and frustration, you'll discover you understand everything.
That's what they say. Reading The Boy in the Mirror is immersion into sickness and the extremely surreal world of tortuous healing. Poisoning the body to rid it of what is killing it. Chemotherapy for severe cancer, in the body of a young man on the cusp from adolescence to early adulthood.
The immersion is so real, so intense, that I feel I may need to purge toxins from my own body. I feel a cramp in my chest and I am chillingly aware of my own physical and mental fragility. Tom wrote this memoir to heal, he says in the afterward, as he does not pretend to be over the experience. As I was reading I wondered, wouldn't four months of aggressive chemotherapy give a person a profound case of PTSD?
I imagine so.
The delusions, the symptoms, the misery, the depression, the restlessness, the yearning, the comfort and sadness of memories and the cruel teasing of every bodily sense that comes through in this book? They were all my own even as Preston was describing his experience to us. He's a gifted writer, and - not a mere gimmick - the presentation of the material in the second person seals the effectiveness completely.
I don't know what else to say. The book flies by. It's not always a pleasant read, and yet, oddly, it is. It is because while it takes you into the lowest pit, it gives you the lifeline of hope, and it does so concretely and at the same time, absurdly, by appealing to the mystical within us.
Reviewed with great thanks to Netgalley and Inpress Books/Valley Press