by Camille Pagan
Libby Miller has always been an unwavering optimist—but when her husband drops a bomb on their marriage the same day a doctor delivers devastating news, she realizes her rose-colored glasses have actually been blinding her.
With nothing left to lose, she abandons her life in Chicago for the clear waters and bright beaches of the Caribbean for what might be her last hurrah. Despite her new sunny locale, her plans go awry when she finds that she can’t quite outrun the past or bring herself to face an unknowable future. Every day of tropical bliss may be an invitation to disaster, but with her twin brother on her trail and a new relationship on the horizon, Libby is determined to forget about fate. Will she risk it all to live—and love—a little longer?
From critically acclaimed author Camille Pagán comes a hilarious and hopeful story about a woman choosing between a “perfect” life and actually living.
“I often reminded myself that working for Jackie was a necessary evil, not unlike a colonoscopy or friendly fondling from airport security personnel.”
“I was hoping for air conditioning, but he man rolled down the windows and I spent the next few minutes pretending to be entranced by palm trees while wondering if I was sweating hard enough to make it look like I wet my pants.”
“The waiter regarded me as though he didn’t believe a word I was saying, but I was gripping my side in a manner that suggested I was in the middle of birthing a live cactus, and he decided it was better for me to be far from the dozen or so patrons brunching on the patio.”
“I’m pretty sure the two stages of my cancer are diagnosis and dying.”
“Don’t look back too much, you know? You’re not going that way.”
Smartly written and highly amusing while achingly insightful, Life and Other Near-Death Experiences was a marvelous and delightful surprise. A woman is having the worst day of her life, she is given a death sentence by her Dr. and after rushing home to seek comfort from her husband, the love of her life, her bad day just doubled in intensity as he drops a bombshell on her that is equally devastating. You would think that a book about a woman working through the worst news a person could receive would be rather morbid or at best heavy and depressing, you would be – so wrong. Rather than fretting and reevaluating her life due to her “new expiration date” she decides not to waste her remaining time on medical treatments, but to go out with dignity. She goes against her typical optimistic and accommodating response and quits her stressful job, kicks her husband to the curb, puts her home on the market, and embarks on a month-long vacation, alone, to Puerto Rico – a place I have never been and would love to see. As a child she had watched her mother wither away in misery during chemo, and decided that was not for her – I have to agree to that school of thought myself. She wanted to her spare her family the stress and anxiety and doesn’t tell anyone about her health condition before she left, and only told a few strangers during her Puerto Rico adventure, where she meets and has a passionate and fun fling with a handsome man.
Ms. Pagan’s characters were unique, witty, and likable. Her writing sparkled with humor that at times had me barking aloud and often still chuckling several minutes later, while it was also a bit dark at times, yet still amusing, such as when her passport photo made her appear “eerily cadaverous.” While the tone of the story was more humorous than dour, it was not without poignant moments as well. I fell apart and had a rather ugly cry when she visited her mother’s grave for the first time as an adult, as it sparked memories of a similar reaction of my own to the finality. I had another spat of sobbing when she finally informed her father of her condition. No spoilers here but the ending was beyond satisfying.