Book Review In-Between Days by Margot Fedoruk
In- Between Days is part of a trend of graphic memoirs written by women that deal with the topics of disease and how it affects their lives from a very personal level.
When Teva Harrison was first diagnosed with terminal breast cancer at the tender age of 37, she found that writing and drawing helped her deal with many psychological aspects of her prognosis and treatment. This memoir is the result of her therapy. Although this book has received many accolades, it is mainly the unique graphic hybrid format that is its main strength. And of course, who doesn’t want to read a book with a mermaid on the cover?
A quick read, this book is a combination of primitive black ink drawings accompanied with short essay- style musings describing different aspects of living with metastatic cancer. Harrison tells her readers wisely that hope is dangerous but crucial – this sentiment seeps out of the pages. Like the title suggests Harrison has the desire to have a normal life, she wants to exist in the times that are in-between the bad days of cancer. In the chapter “Seeking” Harrison explains poetically, “I walk the thinnest lines. So thin it cuts into the balls of my feet.”
Harrison touches briefly on an array of subjects like sex and religion with grace and humour. For instance, in the chapter titled, “Homework,” Harrison explains that after the voluntary removal of her ovaries, early menopause causes her to have difficulties with sex. She is advised by doctors to masturbate as “homework.” Her chapter discussing religion is aptly titled “And Then What.” In this essay with accompanying comic strip, Harrison bravely reveals that she is a rare specimen – a stage IV cancer patient that does not believe in God.
Harrison uses the literary device of directly addressing the audience in many of her comic panels. For instance, in one illustration as she is lying, sushi-like, while vacuum sealed to a radiation bed. Harrison appears to look directly at her audience as she asks the technician to take a photo for her husband. In one panel she holds a microphone like she is doing a stand-up comedy routine about cancer.
This book is a mixed bag of ink drawings and small personal essays that is completely open and honest. Many of the chapters of this book feel as though they were written primarily for a magazine-style format; the result is extremely short chapters that scrape the surface of her experiences. I’ll admit I wished for a bit more of the nitty-gritty aspects of her life with cancer. For instance, in discussing her relationship with her husband there is a feeling of holding back. I wanted to know the details: what sort of ugly fights did they have and if they didn’t fight, then why not? I did feel that some of Harrison’s observances feel cliché: for instance, when describing her time at the mermaid parade in Coney Island she concludes, “dreams can come true if we only make them.”
If Teva Harrison’s intention for writing this book was to start a conversation about a difficult subject, then I believe her job was very successful.
Teva Harrison died at the tender age of 42 on April 27th, 2019 in Toronto.
If you are searching for more of this style of writing on the subject I suggest The Story of my Tits by Jennifer Hayden.
For those who are drawn to this style of memoir read Tangles by Sarah Leavitt. Tangles explores a daughter’s account of her mother’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
In-Between Days by Teva Harrison
House of Anansi Press Inc. 2016
163 pages $19.95