Book Review: Alice and Oliver by Charles Bock

Book Review: Alice and Oliver by Charles Bock

Did you ever read a story in which a character does something particularly heinous, and while a part of you can justify it, you can’t quite come to terms with it?

Meet Oliver Culvert, husband to Alice, father to baby Doe and suddenly overwhelmed with responsibility--he’s working as a tech entrepreneur with a product release deadline looming over his head and his wife has just been diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer. Now, on top of his every day, 1st World problems, Oliver is now juggling treatment and care options for Alice, navigating a complex, patient-unfriendly insurance system and supervision for Doe so that he can be by his wife’s side.

To say it’s stressful is an understatement. It’s a certifiable nightmare.

And that’s nothing to say of what Alice is going through—sudden painful illness, only to discover you are really on Death’s door. The prospect of losing the future with your husband and child, the two people that make up your entire universe. Not knowing who to trust for a cure, and willing to do anything to make it happen. Coming to grips with mortality.

Alice & Oliver is the kind of story that’ll make most people grateful for their health. Grateful for the experiences that are just out of reach for anyone with a compromised immune system. Grateful to be alive.

But grateful about marriage? Not so much. Or, maybe, it's how you define your marriage that guides your feelings for Oliver.

It’s hard not to go into too much detail without giving away the big reveal, but suffice it to say, critical illness can bring anyone down. Some symptoms can be alleviated, others still, tolerated. But breaches in trust? The reader decides.

Author Charles Bock’s writing style is going to appeal to some—melodic and detailed in how it addresses the progression of life after a cancer diagnosis, sometimes even feeling as if it’s a stream of consciousness rather than a controlled release of words onto paper. The timing can feel unsteady as well, but that in itself may be a metaphor of what cancer does—mess with time. I struggled with the pacing, myself, but nonetheless, appreciated a deeply personal glimpse into a relationship ravaged (Bock lost his own wife to cancer, leaving him behind to raise a 3-year-old daughter.)

Regardless of the how you feel about the outcome, I’m certain you’ll have strong feelings one way or another about Oliver’s actions—fantastic fodder for book club.

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