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Is Cancer the End of the World? Strange Skies Attempts to Answer That Question,
This review is from: Strange Skies: A Novel (Paperback)
Paul Mauro is the kind of character, and person, if you're unlikely to meet someone like him, it's easy to hate. Fun, almost. He starts off garnering a bit of sympathy for possibly having cancer, and we can even understand his impulse to pretend that he does. But his blatant selfishness knows no bounds as he has an affair with a woman he meets at the doctor's office, allowng her to buy him expensive clothes while mostly ignoring his wife, Lee. He winds up leaving her and traipsing off on an adventure that can only be described as adolescent. Cancer is omnipresent, both the fake kind and the real thing, as Paul encounters other people, like the child Jack, who he should empathize with, but doesn't. He puts up so many walls between himself and everyone else that at the point we should feel sympathy for him, we really don't, yet still want to see how he'll pull off his next trick.
The sequence with football star Demetrius Davenport is like a hallucination, and while he's also easy to hate, somehow I could just smirk him off. Paul, on the other hand, wants our sympathy, wants everyone's sympathy, even long past the point where he deserves it. Barb and Jack wind up giving him second chances, as does his brother, but one gets the sense that he's been so intent on living out his fantasy life that he can't readjust to the reality he must ultimately face.
Marinovich's writing is maudlin and funny, outrageous yet endearing, with death lurking in the background even as Paul attempts to truly get the most out of life, making up for any moment he's played it safe until now. Friends and lovers come and go, floating in and out of his life with hardly a blink of his eye until he meets the mother and child team of Barb and Jack. Paul's despisal of children (his baby nephew "glares at me greedily with his glittering blue eyes, his damp brown hair swept to one side, Hitler-style.") marks him as perhaps not ready for the grownup life he's signed up for by marrying Lee. Hitler also gets a shout-out later in the novel, when Paul needs "someone truly evil to distract me," and reaches for one of his books in the vicinity of a Hasidic woman in Park Slope. Marinovich makes his reversal one we can all relate to on some level; who, after all, hasn't wanted to chuck their old life in favor for a new, devil-may-care nonstop round of hedonism? Paul's recklessness is contrasted with his father's promiscuity and his brother's by-the-numbers life. "Sure, in the old days, I used to save room. I saved room for sex, for food, for relaxation. I became a mansion of saved rooms Now, I gorge on everything." is how he puts it. Marinovich excels at painting Paul's juvenilia as well as the way his cancer diagnosis affects those around him, garnering him instant sympathy and carte blanche to be as big of an a--hole as he wants to be.
To Paul's credit, and Marinovich's, he doesn't try to lie to the reader about his motives. While we may not trust him, even when he's actually changed, we can understand him. "I want the world to fall apart before I do," he states at one point, the thought not so much bleak as desperate. His loneliness comes to haunt him, to show him that it's not just cancer that is eroding his soul. "I'm the guy who has it worse than me," he tells Barb, whose son is stricken with cancer, not realizing, still, that there will always be someone worse off than him. Paul's lessons, from first-time novelist and cancer survivor himself, Marinovich, painted with humor and just a touch of brazen cruelty. One has to wonder at what point Paul would have come to some of the realizations he does without cancer. Paul is definitely a character you won't soon forget, who you just may think about during your next doctor's visit. A fast, twisted, memorable read.