The pink ribbon, that ubiquitous emblem of breast cancer awareness, has long been an object of controversy and derision, but the poet and essayist Anne Boyer doesn’t just pull it loose, unfastening its dainty loop; she feeds it through a shredder and lights it on fire, incinerating its remains . . . [in her] extraordinary and furious new book." Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times
"Boyer’s book, ambitious in scope, is honed to a precision that feels hard-won. The politics of illnesshow the profit motive determines life and damage and death; how victim blaming is enshrined; how social norms can disable and killhave rarely been limned with such clarity and grace." Lidija Haas, Harper's Magazine
"[A] rousing hybrid of memoir and manifesto . . . [The Undying] is memoir as anti-capitalist indictment, as biting cultural criticism, as vengeance. It suggests a new era in the politics of breast cancer, one that might look less like corporate sponsored marathons every October and more like the radical, confrontational AIDS activism of the 1980s. Arriving the year before an election that could set healthcare and disability policy for decades, The Undying warns us of the human costs of any system that prioritizes profit over lives." Sascha Cohen, NPR
"Boyer returns with a beautiful memoir about her battle with breast cancer . . . [The Undying] puts into sharp focus the economic toll cancer takes on women of limited means . . . and is stacked with revelatory observations . . . Boyer’s gorgeous language elevates this artful, piercing narrative well above the average medical memoir." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"This elegant and eviscerating memoir . . . cuts like a righteous blade through the familiar bland heroics of the breast cancer 'industry' . . . Call it a battle cry, call it a fury-fueled elegy, call it the work of a woman who will not be denied. In every way, The Undying should not be missed." Colleen Mondor, Booklist (starred review)
"This memoir and meditation on . . . illness shines with the startling lines of a poet, the hard-won insight of a patient, and the deep awareness of the fragility and tenacity of our bodies. It deserves to be called a classic." Stephen Sparks, Literary Hub
"Boyer is trying to pick up the junk on the side of the road that might help a future person who doesn’t die from her potentially terminal illness to have something to restart with. So that a future drowning subject has a flotation device that serves as a reality check. Maybe . . . the story of her adaptation can be converted into a resource for yours." Lauren Berlant, 4Columns
"The Undying is an examination of how to write (or not) about breast cancer and at the same time an elegant, devastating example of such writing." Sarah Resnick, Bookforum
"[The Undying is] a passionate and eloquent memoir about one woman's battle with breast cancer . . . [Boyer] takes us on a deeply personal journey into 'my body in pain,' 'eviscerating sadness,' and profound loss . . . Told with brutal clarity, this is a haunting testimony about death that is filled with life." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"The Undying is the pink ribbon's undoing, a methodical and exquisite refusal of the contemporary moral and medical narratives pinned to the sick. Boyer explores near death and not-dying with a transfixing lust for life, drawing upon the cancer writings of Sontag, Lorde and Acker, as well as the accounts of YouTube vloggers, to construct this astonishingly generous work about her illness and the world's. It's a very important book." Johanna Fateman
"A classica book that expands in all directions to fill an empty space in the literature of illness. I have long thought of Boyer as a genius against genius, speaking from the sea of people in a voice that cannot help but be heard above the others, it is so clear and strong. And The Undying is a book that is beautifully against: against cancer, against easy metaphors, above all against 'the pink ribbon on the for-sale sign on the mansion.'" Patricia Lockwood, author of Priestdaddy
"This is a powerful, timely, and troubling book. Boyer's unflinching account of the market-driven brutality of American cancer care sits beside some of the most perceptive and beautiful writing about illness and pain that I have ever read." Hari Kunzru, author of White Tears
"Anne Boyer is an essential voice, and this is an essential book: one body's urgent attempt at finding a language to tell us what it knows." Jonathan Lethem, author of The Fortress of Solitude
A passionate and eloquent memoir about one woman's battle with breast cancer.
Award-winning poet and essayist Boyer (Creative Writing/Kansas City Art Institute; A Handbook of Disappointed Fate, 2018, etc.), a single mother living on a tight budget, was diagnosed with highly aggressive breast cancer when she was 41. Her doctor (who she later replaced) said her tumor was "necrotic, which meant that it was growing so quickly it failed to build infrastructure for itself." He recommended chemotherapy right away. Her treatment with Neulasta cost $7,000 per shot. As the author writes, "someone once said that choosing chemotherapy is like choosing to jump off a building when someone is holding a gun to your head." Boyer looked for guidance and inspiration from other women artists who suffered from the disease, including Susan Sontag, Alice James, Rachel Carson, Audre Lorde, Fanny Burney, Kathy Acker, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Boyer kept a journal, a "minor form of reparative magic," which she abandoned hundreds of times. John Donne's "sickbed masterpiece," Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, written when he thought he was dying, casts an influential shadow over her book. Both have complex structures and are highly meditative, but Boyer's "exercise in lamentation" is secular where Donne's was religious. She takes us on a deeply personal journey into "my body in pain," "eviscerating sadness," and profound loss—eyelashes, eyebrows, toenails, nerves, brain cells, her hair. "I like wigs," she writes. "I wear wigs. People I like wear wigs. Dolly Parton wears wigs….Medusa wore a wig made of snakes." Eventually, Boyer had a double mastectomy. "In the capitalist medical universe in which all bodies must orbit around profit at all times," she writes, "even a double mastectomy is considered an outpatient procedure." She learned that everyone lies, from pharmaceutical companies to doctors and researchers and the internet. "Now that I am undying," she writes, "the world is full of possibility."
Told with brutal clarity, this is a haunting testimony about death that is filled with life.