The Overcoming Disease memoir is a standard shelf-taker these days. It seems that anyone with an illness who survives it turns their experience into a soaring tale of achievement, fortitude, and perseverance. This is not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a lot to be said for learning from the struggles of others. But too often they all wind up feeling the same. Robert K. Brown’s memoir, HUNDRED PERCENT CHANCE, is one of those that edges—ever so slightly—out of the pack.
It’s 1990 in Lancaster, England. A young college student from the Midwest is studying abroad. He’s got his whole life ahead of him. It’s just not going to be the life he thought it would be. The first symptom that something is wrong are the large bruises that seem to appear on Robert’s skin out of nowhere. The lad ignores this sign and others and by the time he does seek medical help it’s almost too late. He is diagnosed with an aggressive and rare form of leukemia. He’s barely twenty. And as quickly as the disease overtakes him, so too is the reader swept up in the young man’s drama. The beginning of the book moves, swiftly and deftly, into the opening stages of Brown’s illness. We’re as shocked as Brown is by the diagnosis. And we’re certainly with him every step of the way as he’s taken by ambulance to the airport for a flight back home, along with bags of plasma for the ride for the many transfusions he’ll need—the disease is that aggressive. Finally back home, however, we’re in familiar territory, where medical procedure after medical procedure is endured and overcome.
Brown has an easy way with all the medical terminology that, in some books, has a tendency to get so bogged down in minutiae that it resembles more textbook than memoir. He also avoids the pity trap and that may be where the book falls short. There are occasional asides in italics as to what Brown is thinking and they’re not always pretty. It’s that ferocity at the disease and the unfair hand that he’s been dealt that readers may hunger for. HUNDRED PERCENT CHANCE might have been better had Brown dealt less with the day-to-day grind of fighting the disease and really dove into the personal pain such a journey inflicts. But it’s a minor quibble. There’s no sense of elation after the book is finished. Which may be Brown’s point. Fighting for your life is often an endurance race rather than a heart-thrilling sprint.
Robert K. Brown’s HUNDRED PERCENT CHANCE, is a realistic, in-your-face honest and down-to-earth memoir about the rigors of treating and surviving cancer, handled with both intimacy and concern.
~Steven Foster for IndieReader