DIARY OF A DETOUR | Kirkus Reviews

Diagnosed with a fatal illness, the author crafts a therapy involving chickens, reading, writing, and travel.

In the latest installment in the publisher’s Writing Matters! series, Stern, a professor emerita of visual arts, chronicles her life and illness. Divided into 83 chapters, some quite brief, the text hops around the author’s life like one of her nervous chickens. There are sections on her raising of those chickens (“this book was sprung into being by the chickens, and it will follow, through many detours, the ways that a vague idea becomes focused as a consuming passion”), cancer therapies (she has chronic lymphocytic leukemia), travels (Mexico, Europe, Australia, New Zealand), her cat, her participation in meditation groups, the deaths of friends and animals, her reading and TV viewing (Gilmore Girls, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), and her fondness for museums and films. Readers unfamiliar with CLL will learn much about the illness and its treatments as well as the grim physical and psychological side effects, but there is a section near the end about the promise of immunotherapy for many types of cancer. At times, the text is gripping—what could be more so than accounts of a struggle for life? At other times, the author seems not to know when to stop—e.g. in the long section on cheese. Stern generally writes clearly about her subjects, only occasionally diving so deeply into medical terminology that some readers may begin to skim. Another minor criticism of her style: She uses the word “quotidian” more than a dozen times. Ultimately, though the narrative is overlong, what emerges most powerfully is Stern’s determination to live—not just to stay alive but, as Tennyson writes in “Ulysses,” “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

A mixture of the mundane and the medical, the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Pub Date: today


Page Count: 320

Publisher: Duke Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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