Evan Handler is plagued every day by his own mortality. In his new book, It’s Only Temporary: The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive, he writes, “People ask me all the time whether living under threat for so long still affects me, and the answer is yes. I fantasize about my own death constantly. Every day I think I’m having a heart attack.”
The “threat” he writes about was the topic of his first book, Time on Fire: My Comedy of Errors, where he gives excruciating details of his battle with leukemia. He was diagnosed when he was in his mid-twenties. Both books provide a look at his life during and long after he beats cancer. His only battle in the second book is with himself when he tries to find to make the most out of life after receiving a second chance to get it all right.
In the Time on Fire book, Handler gives readers a first hand view of what it’s like to be diagnosed with cancer. Readers are taken through every step from the diagnosis through the life altering treatments, to remission and back to finding cancer again to finally finding a more lasting remission.
The author writes of the bone marrow transplant he receives, of several other cancer patients he meets and interacts and of how a family that looks normal on the outside comes apart on the inside in order to help support Handler through his sick years.
His cancer was found in the 1980s when he was in his mid-twenties. The details of how the vomiting, the rashes and the pain involved is overwhelming. For anyone who has been through this himself or herself or watched a loved one go through it, Handler’s details are spot on and gruelingly honest.
In the last sections of the book, Handler writes about feeling well, “Only after high fever, nausea, and furious pains wore themselves around every fiber of my neurology; when drooling and vomiting were so accepted that I carried a plastic pea green basin with me everywhere I went; when physical torment reached its apogee with anal fissures that made a half-centimeter orifice feel like a swollen seven-ton tumor did I begin to comprehend, and cherish, the immeasurable ambrosial delights that caressed my senses in the absence of such interference.”
Fast forward to his latest book where Handler writes about “perspective, and how it can change.”
“It’s a book about how one man finally learned to live well in the world, in spite of possessing the knowledge that his life-like everyone’s- will be of limited duration.”
The It’s Only Temporary book is autobiographical in a fragmented style. Handler writes about the breakup with the girlfriend that helped get him through the cancer and the treatments and how he continually broke up with women he thought he was in love with, 27 times with 10 different women.
He details his search for feeling normal again versus comparing everything in life to how he felt while battling leukemia. He writes of first kisses, eating meat, his love-hate relationship with New York City, a little fame and a whole lot of women and of meeting the woman who would become his wife.
The essays are sometimes funny, sometimes sad and sometimes self-indulgent. The author deserves to be able to write about what he thinks, feels or wants in any manner he wants and feels after coming through such life-threatening experiences.
Readers that have come through their own similar experiences may be able to relate to Handler’s thoughts and resulting actions. Handler did not write an inspirational book about living a second chance in life to some romantic dream life portrayed in so many movies about cancer survivors.
Instead, he writes about real-life thoughts and feelings while searching for meaning in his second chance. Sometimes he thinks he finds the ever-elusive love and happiness and other times he finds he still needs to search. He writes sometimes in humor and sometimes in anger.
Both books are written in a raw, poignant style. Handler doesn’t sugar-coat much, instead he tells it like it is or was, which should be much appreciated by readers.