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The Stuff of Life : A Daughter's Memoir
When Karen Karbo's father, a charming, taciturn Clint Eastwood type who lives in a triple-wide in the Nevada desert, is diagnosed with lung cancer, his only daughter rises to the challenge of caring for him. Neither of them is exactly cut out for the job. As Dick Karbo's disease progresses, Karen finds herself sometimes the responsible adult, sometimes a stubborn teenager all over again. But in the end, what father and daughter discover more than anything is the love and the toughness that makes them alike.
Karbo achieves the near-impossible with this memoir: she wrangles the potentially depressing subjects of death and a dysfunctional family into a funny, uplifting page-turner. When her kindhearted but curmudgeonly father is diagnosed with lung cancer, Karbo begins the exhausting leapfrog between her husband and three children in Portland, Ore. and his triple-wide in the Nevada desert. Her attempts to discuss the rapidly spreading disease with the world's most uncommunicative patient are indeed valiant, but Karbo's honesty about her partial regression into adolescence is what will distinguish her story from the rest of the cancer caretaker genre. After all, what normal human beings in Karbo's position haven't found themselves "running on the fumes of maturity... still and always the long-suffering sixteen-year-old?" It's refreshing that our tour guide in this country of illness doesn't pretend to be a natural-born Florence Nightingale. Instead, she freely admits, "I have little patience with the necessary routines of caregiving. I trust doctors about as much as I trust mechanics or the retail associate at Nordstrom who tells me I look fabulous in a pair of $1,200 Calvin Klein capri pants, and am a barf-o-phone to boot." Karbo may occasionally hide out in the bathroom-reduced to reading the fake newsprint wallpaper during her father's hour-long coughing jags-but, as the end approaches, no one can argue she isn't a devoted, well-intentioned daughter. She may apologize for being a "blinking, flinching, grief-stricken fool," but this sense of fallibility and honesty could inspire an alternate subtitle for her book: a survival manual for the living.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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September 22, 2004
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