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In the winter of 1989, 32-year-old Rosemary Breslin got a headache that wouldn't go away. After many medical tests, transfusions and treatments it was determined that she had a life-threatening rare blood disease with no name -- and with no cure.
Breslin, a New York-based writer and daughter of famed newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin, was about to lose it. She had no job, no money, no confidence, insufficient health insurance and was about to give up her apartment. Then friends fixed her up with Tony Dunne, a sweet set designer and nephew of John Gregory Dunne, Joan Didion and Dominick Dunne. She unexpectedly fell in love and moved into Tony's West Village apartment, where she became obsessed with cleaning and clothes washing. "I had reinvented myself as Donna Reed with a filthy mouth and an edge," she says.
Not Exactly What I Had in Mind is the raw, honest and often inspirational story of her struggles with illness, work and love. Though memoirs of sickness are often overly graphic, morbid and difficult to relate to, Breslin is an idiosyncratic writer who manages to make her story both poignant and universal. At one point, she's at the same hospital where her mother, whom she's named after, died of cancer. She tries desperately to get Tony to propose; after he does, she picks out his next wife in case she doesn't make it.
This book's funniest and most charming sections involve her father, who accompanies her to her doctor's appointments. When she feels helpless, he hands her a credit card and tells her to buy herself expensive clothes. He hounds her to keep writing and she does. She publishes a series of articles on her illness that run in Newsday and the Los Angeles Times. She writes scripts for N.Y.P.D. Blue.
In another unusual twist, her father also winds up in the hospital. "My father got an aneurysm in his brain," she writes. "Of course, he doesn't get some wimpy thing like me. He goes for the gold. I'd always known he was going to steal the attention away from me in this whole illness thing." Her father revives and writes a book titled I Want to Thank My Brain for Remembering Me, published last year, in which Rosemary is a character -- so the two now have dueling memoirs. They're both terrific storytellers. She's obviously inherited his blood, strength, guts, sense of humor and -- lucky for us -- his writing talent. Not Exactly What I Had in Mind is a riotous and oddly romantic debut. -- Salon