This is a lighthearted and comedic novel about Daniel Plotnick, an Associated Press business writer who, upon learning he has thyroid cancer, decides to change his life by doing the opposite of everything. What he once deemed important — a solid marriage, a successful career, reasonable good health — would now be, in his enlightenment, obstacles to avoid.
His doctor first informs him that if you’re going to get cancer, thyroid cancer, a mostly curable disease is the one to get. After further examination the same surgeon declares Plotnick’s condition as incurable. After sacrificing his thyroid, a vocal nerve, and a portion of his trachea to the surgeon’s scalpel, Plotnick is given a 50-50 chance of surviving ten years and the unsettling advice to “live each day with meaning.”
What makes David Kalish’s thin and breezy book so appealing is its refusal to treat the Big C as anything but a motivation for humor. Never does the disease seem dramatic or threatening, all the while intimidating the character’s very existence. The- point here is — the choices one makes in life, including the frantic choices a cancer diagnosis may invoke, are essential to determining one’s well-being and quality of life, regardless of how little time that life has left.
After running a tread mill of cancer treatment, Plotnick determines the choices he has made in his life — the smart practical choices — have not served him well. Why not then, he supposes, do an about-face on all he held significant? He locks his wife out of their apartment and soon divorces her. He gets fitted for a nose ring and dresses in gothic black like his beloved death metal rock bands. He goes on drinking binges, practically lives in bars, and roams the night in his trendy attire.
In his most radical departure from the norm, he accompanies his swinging single father on a weird odyssey to a Catskills resort senior citizen’s weekend. Here, Plotnick’s life takes yet another leap foreword, as he loses his cool and slips further over the edge when he can’t tolerate his father’s playing of The Village People’s “Macho Man” at full volume on his Mustang’s cassette deck.
Before Plotnick self-destructs with or without cancer, the author allows his protagonist to fall in love with a charming Columbian woman who sees his reckless behavior as a calling to her own needs and desires. With that happy outcome, witty dialogue that seems inspired from a Seinfeld episode, and bizarre situations that confront the commonplace (Plotnick falls or is pushed from a famous American landmark), The Opposite of Everything is a passive and engaging read.
The character of Judy, Plotnick’s first wife is sketchy at best. She is a cast-off wife who only serves as a catalyst for his ensuing adventure and romance. I thought the author’s treatment of her was harsh and abrupt. It’s the only false note in a novel that is grinning from ear to ear with the promise of another day.