Beyond the illness, though, is a breathtaking love story. In crystalline prose, Scarboro describes the pulse of her relationship with Stephen with all its illuminating quirks. Like any young couple, they agonize about career choices, attempt ill-fated road trips, bargain about whether to adopt a puppy, and host one memorably disastrous Thanksgiving. They navigate the growing pains of their twenties alongside the twists and turns of life-threatening disease; if their telephone rings at midnight, the caller might be a heartbroken friend, or the hospital offering a new set of lungs. As time goes on and trouble looms, the dangers of Stephen's illness consume her, just as they will consume readers who feel they have come to know this extraordinary couple.
Scarboro tells her story of fierce love and its limitations with humor, grace, and remarkable bravery. My Foreign Cities is a portrait of a young couple approaching mortality with reckless abandon, gleefully outrunning it for as long as they can.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-07-22
- Reviewer: Staff
Award-winning children's novelist Scarboro's first memoir encapsulates adult mature of illness and loss in the form of a coming of age love story written retrospectively The book examines the writer's first marriage to her high school sweetheart Stephen, who died in his early 30s due to complications from cystic fibrosis. Scarboro depicts the trials and tribulations of young love as an adventure, with her husband's illness as the backdrop. The book's firm focus on the young married couple gives the story a relentless power but also the slightest tunnel vision. Readers may find themselves wishing that the author had crafted deeper portraits of supporting characters such as the caring family and friends who surrounded her and Stephen. She does this poignantly when capturing the ways her elementary students handled their teacher's loss. As a portrait of the fierce power of love, and of one remarkable young man, and as chronicle of life in the face of certain death, this memorable book deserves many readers. (Apr.)
Making the most of the time that is given
As a teenager, Elizabeth Scarboro pictured herself as an international journalist, moving from one country to another, and from one boyfriend to the next. Then one summer she met Stephen, a friend of a friend who was older than his years, with a happy-go-lucky attitude toward life and living with cystic fibrosis, and her dreams vanished as she fell slowly, raggedly and wholeheartedly in love with him.
From the beginning, Scarboro resisted her feelings for this man with a life expectancy of 30 years whose medical condition lurked always in the background. After high school, she set off for the University of Chicago, and he headed off in the opposite direction to Berkeley. As she writes, “We were supposed to be setting out. Whatever we did, we were not supposed to compromise for relationships. . . . I had ambitions and the urge to experience all kinds of freedom, and the last thing I wanted to be was a girl following some guy around.” In the end, however, Stephen’s illness called her bluff, and she realized that, compared to Stephen, “most things would be there [later]. If I wanted him, I had to hurry up.”
In My Foreign Cities, Scarboro invites us to accompany her on every mile of her joyous, often terrifying, sad and exalted journey of love. A natural storyteller, she brings vividly to life her struggles both to protect Stephen, who has a “lightness about him,” and to keep him at her side as long as she can so that they can embrace life to its fullest. She leads us down the path where his medical condition consumes every waking minute of their lives—including a lung transplant, its results and Stephen’s eventual decline—and shares her agony, her joy, her anger and her indecision with us.
In the end, Scarboro hardly feels sorry for herself or the young man who died too soon: “This was what we wanted, to live out being together for as long as we could. It’s hard to explain—the life was difficult but not lacking.”