New York, 1993. Alice Culvert is a caring wife, a doting new mother, a loyal friend, and a soulful artist a fashion designer who wears a baby carrier and haute couture with equal aplomb. In their loft in Manhattan s gritty Meatpacking District, Alice and her husband, Oliver, are raising their infant daughter, Doe, delighting in the wonders of early parenthood.
Their life together feels so vital and full of promise, which makes Alice s sudden cancer diagnosis especially staggering. In the span of a single day, the couple s focus narrows to the basic question of her survival. Though they do their best to remain brave, each faces enormous pressure: Oliver tries to navigate a labyrinthine healthcare system and handle their mounting medical bills; Alice tries to be hopeful as her body turns against her. Bracing themselves for the unthinkable, they must confront the new realities of their marriage, their strengths as partners and flaws as people, how to nourish love against all odds, and what it means to truly care for another person.
Inspired by the author s life, "Alice & Oliver" is a deeply affecting novel written with stunning reserves of compassion, humor, and wisdom. Alice Culvert is an extraordinary character a woman of incredible heart and spirit who will remain in memory long after the final page.
Praise for "Alice & Oliver"
This hauntingly powerful novel follows a family s fight for survival in the face of illness. A stirring elegy to a marriage. "O: The Oprah Magazine"
A rewarding reading experience . . . a testament to the resilience of humans and our willingness to forgive. "San Francisco Chronicle"
The novel s power is in its two characters messy negotiation of their fears, errors and shifting affections. . . . Bock offers a forceful reminder that there are plenty of roiling emotions underneath that till-death-do-us-part. "Los Angeles Times"
" A] heart-wrenching story of a young couple whose lives change when Alice gets diagnosed with cancer . . . a refreshingly unsentimental look at the vicious disease. "Entertainment Weekly"
"Alice & Oliver " has a] tough-minded commitment to truth-telling. "The Washington Post"
Even more than the meticulous details of drugs, treatments and side effects, Bock s tender portrayal of his characters] in all their desolation gives "Alice & Oliver"] its ring of truth. . . . I loved this novel. Marion Winik, "Newsday"
"Alice & Oliver" shows that, even in a situation that s about as terrible as it can be, there can still exist happiness, surprise, and life, that strange strong spirit that s with us until the end. "The Boston Globe"
The most honest, unsentimentally powerful novel about cancer that I ve ever read. Michael Christie, "The Globe & Mail"
Wrenchingly powerful . . . Bock chronicles the daily struggles of a young wife and mother facing her own imminent mortality. This is a soul portrait of a family in crisis, written with a fearless clarity and a deep understanding of the bonds that can hold two people together even in the darkest hour. Richard Price"
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-02-01
- Reviewer: Staff
“Cancer is a hell of a disease,” Alice and her husband, Oliver, are told by a doctor early on in Alice’s diagnosis in this articulate excavation of the emotional, physical, and intellectual effects of terminal illness. Through this novel, Bock (Beautiful Children) has, by and large, translated much of his own experience of tending to his late wife—who, like Alice, was diagnosed with leukemia when their daughter was an infant. The result is a spellbinding book, pulsating with life and reminding the reader on every page that even when everything is as awful as it could possibly be, life itself is always a curious thing. Interspersed throughout the first two-thirds of the novel are occasional “Case Studies,” detached profiles of fellow patients receiving chemo, which provide a formal, almost surreal counterbalance to the intense humanity of Alice’s sickness. Though it could have been worthwhile, this device peters out before it can add much depth. But overall, this book overcomes the standard clichés to provide a beautiful, complex portrait of a family in crisis. (Apr.)
A searing, honest second novel
Since Charles Bock’s unforgettable 2008 debut novel, Beautiful Children, seared us with its bleak portrait of teen runaways and the Vegas fringe, I’ve married, moved across the country, lived in three homes and fathered two children. And all the while, periodically, I’ve wondered, when the heck is this guy going to write another book?
Well, nearly eight years after showing up on the New York Times Notable Books of the Year list, Bock gives us Alice & Oliver, at once a heart-wrenching story of a young couple’s world crumbling and an explanation, of sorts, of just where Bock has been all these years.
In 2009, when their daughter was six months old, Bock’s wife, Diana, was diagnosed with cancer. She died two-and-a-half years later. Out of that time comes this book.
Alice and Oliver Culvert are the parents of a newborn named Doe. It is 1993, and they live in New York City’s edgy (at the time) Meatpacking District. They are both creative people: Oliver writes code and Alice works steadily in the fashion world. We meet Alice first. She is healthy for about two inches of type. In paragraph one she coughs up blood on the street. On page six she is nearly dead. By page 12, Alice has cancer, and this powerful, riveting book becomes an exercise in keeping your lip from trembling.
As Alice’s treatment begins, she and Oliver are the perfect couple, very much in love. Oliver bares his teeth at cancer, and toggles between being Alice’s protector and her jailer. But Alice deteriorates, and the duo is worn down by the labyrinthine medical system and the lacerating effects of treatment and uncertainty. They turn away from each other. Alice has a bizarre, fraught encounter with an alcoholic musician named Mervyn, who hits on her in the hospital—somehow without being totally repulsive. Oliver, meanwhile, finds himself adrift when not sitting bedside, and explores outlets that may prove poisonous to their marriage.
Bock, unsurprisingly, says he cannot imagine a more difficult book to write. Nor is it, emotionally, an easy read. Yet this deep, honest and layered exploration of disease is not depressing. On the contrary, it’s a life-affirming portrait of people trying their best while enduring the worst.