Book Review: The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs
“Here we are closer to something I am trying to understand: that openness to fear. We are hearts and stingers. We ride the tide. We believe in resistance; we are made both of fight and float.”
Last year I read When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and was completely taken in by Kalanithi’s story, like most everyone else that read this memoir. I heard about The Bright Hour because Paul Kalanithi’s widow, Lucy, had struck up a friendship (then a relationship) with Nina Riggs’ widower, John. The Bright Hour is Nina’s memoir of her journey through breast cancer. Her story differs from Paul’s as she did not have the medical background (she is a poet by trade), and her writing is much more conversational, as opposed to Paul's essay-like writing.
Nina is in her late thirties when she is diagnosed with breast cancer. She starts chemotherapy and has a mastectomy. She and her husband John have two young boys, Freddy and Benny, who are old enough to know that something is wrong, but don’t really understand exactly what is going on. All of this happens while her mother is dying of cancer as well. Her mother has had breast cancer for several years, but her body has stopped responding to treatments. So not only must Nina face her own cancer and mortality, she also has to grieve her mother’s decline and eventual death.
Before Nina's mother dies, they are part of a book club, and they read Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. It was a fascinating read, and it is surreal to see how that book made such an impact on Nina, before her book would go on to make its own impact. Nina points out that she is blown away by Gawande's writing, but her mother is not. She says she's been saying it all along; no one was ready to listen yet. I just love how books that I love intertwine and make an impression on other writers.
I want to warn any of you that are interested in reading The Bright Hour that you absolutely will get emotional. I am a pretty emotional reader anyways, but I broke down two separate times while reading this. I had to put the book down several times in order to calm down. I do not want to detract from the greatness of the book, but I do want to give everyone a fair warning. I loved this book, even though it was a difficult read. But despite the horrible situation, you see how much Nina loved her family throughout her stories. She wrote about the miserable side effects of cancer and its treatments, while at the same time capturing how utterly terrifying it is for the patient, as well as the family. I have a lot of thoughts about The Bright Hour, so please if you have read it, let me know. I loved it and give it 5 stars!
Let me know how you felt about When Breath Becomes Air and/or The Bright Hour.