Who in This Room: The Realities of Cancer, Fish, and Demolition

Imagine a Venn diagram with three circles: one each for short stories, personal essays and memoir. Katherine Malmo's Who in This Room falls where these circles intersect, drawing upon aspects of each genre to invent a new form. Her fierce, no-nonsense collection pushes other storytelling boundaries as well, using different points of view--Kate, you, I--to tackle the intensely personal subject of her inflammatory breast cancer and the twisted, harrowing (but caustically humorous) journey to recovery. It's not a cancer memoir, though; Malmo professes her desire to write about "non-cancer life," too, and breast cancer ultimately plays a supporting role, second to Malmo's vibrant perspective, her candor and poetic sensibility, her self-awareness and wit.

"Your yoga instructor will tell you to tell your body it is healing," she writes in the title piece. "Your body will call her a liar. Your body will be right." In "The Oxygenated World," when Kate's husband, Ben, offers to shave his head, too, "she said it was a sweet idea and all, supportive, but really it just made two bald freaks walking down the street instead of one."

Juxtaposing the ordinary and the absurd, Malmo divines and articulates the relationships between chemotherapy and fly-fishing, fashion tips and a biopsy report, welding and marriage, casino demolition and adoption. The musical precision of her words is felt in the body, cutting straight to the core. You emerge from Who in This Room as if from a vigorous swim, refreshed and more alive. --Claire Fuqua Anderson, fiction writer

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