Tag Archives: elisa albert

A Review of The Book of Dahlia

Book of DhaliaI finished Elisa Albert’s The Book of Dahlia and I’m not quite as depressed as I thought I would be considering it’s about a young woman with terminal brain cancer.

Maybe it’s because the book is kind of depressing in a way that has nothing to do with Dahlia’s brain cancer. It seems Dahlia’s life went off track well before the tumor invaded her body. It all started off well though… two loving parents and an older brother who doted on her. But soon her self-centered mother abandons the family to return to Israel and “find herself,” her loving father becomes increasingly pathetic, and her brother completely hardens and turns away from his family, including the sister he adored.

It’s clear through flashbacks of her life that Dahlia is damaged. She can’t maintain one healthy relationship and she has no idea what she wants to do with herself besides smoke pot and spend her dad’s money. And, after years of trying to worm her way back into her brother’s heart, she’s cultivated a hatred she holds on to until the very end.

These are the tragedies of Dahlia’s life even before the tumor takes hold of her. Even then, she is not your normal fictional sick character. There is no positivity, little forgiveness and not a whole lot of change in attitude. And this is what I liked about the book. Dahlia is an anti-heroine. She’s not mushy and she’s hard to sympathize with sometimes… most times. Her tone, as narrator of her own story, is sarcastic, funny and very hipster.

Dahlia is often unlikable, but her story is engaging and unlike most cancer books. Certainly different than the Lurlene McDaniel novels about terminal illness I read as a child (strange, I know). While I can’t quite picture my mom enjoying the profanity-laced, inappropriate sex-filled stream of consciousness journey into Dahlia’s messed up life, but it was certainly an interesting spin.

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If Entertainment Weekly Says It’s Good…

Entertainment WeeklyIf you skim Elisa Albert’s website, you’ll see plenty of accolades for her novel The Book of Dahlia. Many of these come from such highly regarded media as The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and so forth. But which one jumped out at me? That would be Entertainment Weekly, which called The Book of Dahlia one of the Ten Best Fiction Books of 2008.

You see, my mom has rubbed off on me a bit. Growing up in my house, my mom used to joke that the TV Guide was the bible. While it always retained that level of importance, I feel like Entertainment Weekly might have been starting to edge it out. My mom was always caught up on her Entertainment Weeklys, both in magazine and website form. And it seems to have influenced her reading choices.

The list of the Ten Best Fiction Books of 2008 includes a great review of The Book of Dahlia, writing:

“The eponymous heroine of Albert’s mordant novel is a spoiled Los Angeles slacker with a doting father, a self-absorbed mother, no direction in life, and few commitments. She slumps on her shabby-chic couch smoking dope, eating Cheerios, and watching cheesy old movies again and again while she waits for her life to begin. But terminal cancer happens, even to pretty underachievers like Dahlia Finger who never have the chance to redeem themselves — and probably wouldn’t even if they did. What begins as a darkly funny novel develops quickly into a genuine tragedy, though it’s unlike any you’ve read before.”

On top of that, though, the article also features two other books from Robin’s Reading List. There’s Richard Price’s Lush Life, which I haven’t read yet, and The House on Fortune Street, which is one of my favorites from this project so far. Additionally, Entertainment Weekly includes American Wife, a book that my mom recommended to me earlier and I read for my book club. Everyone in the group really liked it.

With a track record like that, I believe Entertainment Weekly really knows how to pick ’em. Or, rather, that my mom really knew how to pick ’em from the ones that Entertainment Weekly picked. Or something like that…

Next Up: The Book of Dahlia

Book of DhaliaIt’s that time again when I have to pick my next book on the list. However, I’m not likely to start it just yet. Right now I’m in the middle of Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply for my book club. Since I’m hosting with Carley and we meet in less than a week, I figured I should probably get around to starting and finishing the book. It should be good as my mom had good things to say about it.

Once Await Your Reply is said and done, I will move on to The Book of Dahlia by Elisa Albert. I impulsively (and accidentally) bought this as a paperback a few months ago and put it aside in favor of e-books. However, I’m ready to give my Kindle a break and pick this one back up.

For those interested (and those like me who maybe bought it a long time ago and don’t remember what it’s about at all), here’s the description:

Meet Dahlia Finger: twenty-nine, depressed, whip-smart, occasionally affable, bracingly honest, resolutely single, and perennially unemployed. She spends her days stoned in front of the TV, watching the same movies repeatedly, like “a form of prayer.” But Dahlia’s so-called life is upended by an aggressive, inoperable brain tumor.

Stunned and uncomprehending, Dahlia must work toward reluctant emotional reckoning with the aid of a questionable self-help guide. She obsessively revisits the myriad heartbreaks, disappointments, rages, and regrets that comprise the story of her life — from her parents’ haphazard Israeli courtship to her kibbutz conception; from the role of beloved daughter and little sister to that of abandoned, suicidal adolescent; from an affluent childhood in Los Angeles to an aimless existence in the gentrified wilds of Brooklyn; from a girl with “options” to a girl with none — convinced that cancer struck because she herself is somehow at fault.

With her take-no-prisoners perspective, her depressive humor, and her extreme vulnerability, Dahlia Finger is an unforgettable anti-heroine. This staggering portrait of one young woman’s life and death confirms Elisa Albert as a “witty, incisive” (Variety) and even “wonder-inducing” writer (Time Out New York).

I’m going to be honest and say that until I copied and pasted that summary above I did not realize I had chosen yet another book essentially about death. But this blog post was already almost done so it hardly seems worth putting off again.

My mom really knew how to pick some uplifting reading, eh?