by Debra Samson
A diagnosis of pancreatic cancer means that death is not far away. Even so I sometimes wondered if I was reading a memoir written by a survivor of that dreadful disease as I read Debra Samson's novel, Between. Samson's writing is that personal and immediate.
She tells the story of Barbara Sue Herbert, whose deadened spirit, devalued self image, and unhappy marriage, made her feel dead long before pancreatic cancer threatened her life. Alone and miserable she calls on her close friend from junior high, Carolyn, who offers to let her come to her Florida home so she'll have a peaceful place to die.
Barbara leaves a successful career teaching physical therapy students at Columbia University. But when she leaves for Florida, she takes a writing project, a manual about what has and has not worked in training from the point of view of students, teachers, and patients. It will be her gift to the career that set her free from her deadly marriage. So ironic that physical therapy cannot eliminate the deadly path of cancer as it eats away at Barbara's cells and organs, introducing excessive pain that can only be controlled by morphine and drains her life away.
Barbara's new location and her treasured friend, Carolyn, breathe more life into her than chemo or any other medical treatment. Carolyn's home is an oasis, a place where she's surrounded by the peace and beauty she's been seeking for years. Even Carolyn's husband lends his support, and Barbara is surrounded with love, peace, and joy, as well as a regretful ex, as she progresses through the end stages and into the next world.
We should all be this lucky, if the word lucky can even be used to refer to a story about dealing with cancer. Between records Barbara's journey into peace. That's a subject that will interest almost anyone who's ever lost a loved one or been threatened with a debilitating and/or deadly disease.
Bodies die, but spirits cans thrive even under arduous circumstances. Samson explores hope and help for the dying in this well-researched book. No one has ever been able to come back from the dead to report on the experience of dying, but Samson comes close as she combines her knowledge take from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Buddhist philosophy, and her own interpretations and observations.
This is a story about the power of friendship, love, trust, and...yes...illness. Based on a true story, it's about how all of these factors can change us and move us forward on our journey. As I mentioned earlier, I felt like I was inside a memoir of a woman trying to justify her life and experiences as I read the early chapters, but the further I got into the book, the more I felt that a little whininess and self-justification made Barbara more real. If she'd been uncomplaining from the start, we wouldn't have appreciated her growth.
Between contains hope, inspiration, and triumph. Barbara is portrayed in an authentic, intelligent, heartfelt manner. If literature allows us to explore our uncertainties and try on other people's lives, then Samson's book is definitely literature.
Author Debra Samson has worked in journalism, marketing, advertising, speechwriting, memoirs and fiction. A native of Detroit, who spent time in Tokyo, she now lives in Kirkland, WA with her husband and two children. Between is her first novel. Visit her website.
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