Guest Reviewer: James Frey on The Things That Need Doing
Beginning in late September 2006, fifty-eight-year-old public health nurse and lifelong Akron, Ohio resident Susan Manning endured some thirteen months of hospitalization following a heart attack and cancer diagnosis, the majority of that time spent at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic. (Price tag: $2.4 million.) And for all but a couple of days, her only child, twenty-seven-year-old New York City transplant and aspiring writer Sean, was there at her bedside, right up until the moment of her death. He contends that reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking
and Philip Roth’s Patrimony
did little to help him cope with his grief; yet like those two works, The Things That Need Doing
is unflinching in its portrayal of sickness—relentless vomiting, coughed-up blood clots, seeping orifices and leaking tubes. Manning also turns his unsparing eye on the hospital environment, capturing everything from the color-coded scrubs to the framed newspaper articles lining the hallways to the different stitching on the white coats of training and attending doctors, all of it “intended to engender trust, allay fear, promote tranquility, emit refinement, and above all conceal the chaos and profaneness truer to its character.” Tempering this nightmarish drama is Manning’s comically aggrieved Cleveland sports fandom as well as his fascinating family history. His grandfather was a basketball star at Akron’s St. Vincent-St. Mary High School seventy years ahead of LeBron James. His father rose from rubber factory production line to the company’s front office while Susan changed careers and enrolled in college at age forty. Then there’s the unprecedented amicableness of his parents’ divorce. So close would they remain, in fact, that his father visited the hospital almost as regularly as Sean himself, as did his mother’s siblings and best friend and Sean’s girlfriend, who flew in from New York every other weekend. “What gets most people,” he writes, “is that I went through all this without any brothers and sisters. But…I wasn’t on my own.” Nor is anyone who’s ever experienced or is perhaps in the midst of experiencing the prolonged illness of a loved one—not after reading this inspiring, heartbreaking, often hilarious and altogether important book.
From Publishers Weekly
An only child's final months caring for his dying mother proves an ordinary, universal story--and tremendously moving in the hands of Akron, Ohio-born journalist Manning. After complications from a heart attack, Manning's mother, a 58-year-old nurse who had battled asthma and Hodgkin's lymphoma earlier in her life, spends a year in Cleveland Clinic's Respiratory Special Care Unit undergoing intensely painful and intrusive treatments including feeding tubes and lung suctioning. When his mother grows increasingly debilitated, despite moments of hope, and isn't strong enough to undergo the radiation needed to combat a cancerous clot found in her lungs, she's eventually moved to an Akron hospice. At the time, Manning was a journalist and caterer living in New York City with his girlfriend, Elaine, and just turning 27; he moved to Cleveland, visiting his mother daily and advocating for her care. He re-creates this wrenching time with the help of his Aunt Claire's journal, alternating these events with memories of his growing up in Akron, attending St. Vincent–St. Mary's school, into Cleveland's professional sports teams. He expresses by turns his incredulity and anger at his mother's final agony, resigned to his powerlessness, and simply determined to do what he could until the end: love her. (Dec.)
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