Readers of The Lost Art

Cancer Vixen

March 4th, 2009

Writer and Artist:  Marisa Acocella Marchetto
Reviewer:              Jean

Cancer Vixen

Forget men in tights, the big subject matter in comics at the moment is cancer: specifically, the cancer memoir. The grand-daddy of them all is Joyce Brabner and Harvey Pekar’s “Our Cancer Year”, but the group has recently discussed “Mom’s Cancer”
(“Mom’s Cancer” review), and now here comes Marisa Acocella Marchetto’s “Cancer Vixen” (not a victim, get it?).

Marchetto is a successful cartoonist, selling her work to publications like “The New Yorker” and “Glamour”, where these strips originally appeared. It shows in the lively, witty depiction of individual scenes, the wisecracks and the jokes about her mother, the cancer cells shown as a hostile gang of cartoon characters; but it also shows in the meandering narrative, and the flatness of tone and the two-dimensional characterisation.

Cancer appears in Marchetto’s busy and fashionable life at a very inconvenient time, just three weeks before her wedding to Silvano who runs the favourite restaurant of the beautiful people (and the attempts of those beautiful people to seduce her husband seem to preoccupy her just as much as the disease). She details the elegant, impractical shoes
she wears to each medical appointment (as well as precisely how late she is) and rates the hospital on the stylishness of their gowns. The note is resolutely light, frivolous, upbeat.

This is surely a deliberate literary strategy, but it’s a high-risk choice: readers who are not amused by it are likely to be alienated, and those who are amused for the duration of a page or six (at least some of this material first appeared in “Glamour” magazine) may find a whole book of it wearing. It is tempting to review the author, rather than the book, and to find her shallow and self-obsessed.

The problem is that the book is not good enough to stand independently of its content. Marchetto’s concern to share titbits of information she has gathered about cancer, warning of the risks of post-operative lymphedema, willing to look a fool for allowing her health insurance to lapse in order to encourage others not to make the same mistake – it’s all well intentioned, but good intentions aren’t enough.

Hardcover: 224 pages

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (26 Sep 2006)

ISBN-10: 0307263576

(First published 18/07/2007.)

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