Brenda Cooper

Reading Recommendation: The Specific Gravity of Grief, by Jay Lake

The specific gravity of griefI’ll start out by quoting myself twice – the following blurb is on the back cover of the book:

“We tend to clothe cancer in pretty words, to hide its savage nature from our innermost frightened hearts.  In The Specific Gravity of Grief, Jay Lake used pretty words to clothe cancer in the rags of fear that it deserves.”

That was based on reading it in manuscript.  The book arrived yesterday in my mailbox, and I said this about it on Twitter:

“Pretty book to hide such knives of words.”

There are reasons I said those things.  Cancer is not describable, not really.  This was not something I knew intimately until recently.  I had seen people I knew fight cancer and win, or win for a while, or die suddenly.  But not family or close friends.  People I knew who were there and then weren’t there, but who were the age when death takes us somehow anyway.   When hearts give out or  cancer comes or organs fail or we experience the odd injuries of the very old.  I knew enough about cancer at that point to know I didn’t like it.  But I didn’t hate it.

Then a friend I work with got it.  She’s young, with two young girls.  She seems to be winning at the moment.  Then another friend got it and died pretty fast.  My partner Toni’s sister did a round with cancer, but I haven’t met her so I saw her fight only through it’s affect on Toni.

Cancer came to Jay Lake.  He is a  friend, even though we live in different states and see each other mostly at the world-wide ongoing party that is science fiction conventions.  His cancert hit closer emotionally, maybe since Jay and I are in somewhat similar places in our somewhat similar writing careers, and we used to laugh because people couldn’t tell us apart from the back – we both had the same length and color of hair and are not tiny people.  He writes more than I do, and knows a few more people than I do, and is very good with words.

At this point, cancer was scary and there was just too much of it around.  I could still ignore it on most days.

Jay won round one with cancer, and kept going, still writing, still joking, still being Jay. 

My partner’s sister’s cancer had also slunk away for a while.  It returned, harder and more dangerous and scarier.

Jay started round two, unexpectedly. 

Now I was feeling my mortality.

Cancer wasn’t done circling yet.  It wanted to be in closer.

It showed up in my kid brother in a nasty virulent way.  He is younger than me, he is very beloved, and he is living almost confined to his house with two or three hours of energy a day and on his second round of chemo.

That’s when I hated cancer.  After seeing my brother with it – the way it hollowed his cheeks and stripped him closer to bone and stole his energy.  The way it took all the air out of the room and became the center of all of us. 

So when I got this news about my brother and was raging at the universe in disbelief and pissed off at it as well, Jay sent me this manuscript.

It helped.  It made me cry.  Jay is good with words.  In The Specific Gravity of Grief, he almost describes the indescribable.  He gets close enough to make you taste it.

Cancer isn’t in me, just around me.  Better than living it fully, but I can smell its breath and hear its feet.  This story about the cancer wolves circling isn’t so much to tell my story, but to explain why I know just how good Jay’s book is. 

Yes, there are other stages to all this. Books full to the brim with optimism and hope and support and all of that (those exist here but as seasoning).   This is a bit more about exactly what it says it is – the grief.  Don’t be afraid to read it. 

For more about Jay, see www.jlake.com.

The Specific Gravity of Grief can be ordered from Fairwood Press in a limited signed edition.

Full disclosure caveat:  I am a very small investor in Fairwood Press and I am the secretary. I don’t get any monetary gain by recommending Fairwood Press books.