The Undying: Book summary and reviews of The Undying by Anne Boyer

The Undying

Pain, vulnerability, mortality, medicine, art, time, dreams, data, exhaustion, cancer, and care

by Anne Boyer

The Undying by Anne Boyer X
The Undying by Anne Boyer
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About this book

Book Summary

A week after her forty-first birthday, the acclaimed poet Anne Boyer was diagnosed with highly aggressive triple-negative breast cancer.

For a single mother living paycheck to paycheck who had always been the caregiver rather than the one needing care, the catastrophic illness was both a crisis and an initiation into new ideas about mortality and the gendered politics of illness.

A twenty-first-century Illness as Metaphor, as well as a harrowing memoir of survival, The Undying explores the experience of illness as mediated by digital screens, weaving in ancient Roman dream diarists, cancer hoaxers and fetishists, cancer vloggers, corporate lies, John Donne, pro-pain "dolorists," the ecological costs of chemotherapy, and the many little murders of capitalism. It excoriates the pharmaceutical industry and the bland hypocrisies of "pink ribbon culture" while also diving into the long literary line of women writing about their own illnesses and ongoing deaths: Audre Lorde, Kathy Acker, Susan Sontag, and others.

A genre-bending memoir in the tradition of The Argonauts, The Undying will break your heart, make you angry enough to spit, and show you contemporary America as a thing both desperately ill and occasionally, perversely glorious.

Includes black-and-white illustrations.

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Book Awards

  • award image Pulitzer Prize Winners, 2020

Reviews

Media Reviews

"[R]evelatory... Boyer's gorgeous language elevates this artful, piercing narrative well above the average medical memoir." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A passionate and eloquent memoir about one woman's battle with breast cancer...Told with brutal clarity, this is a haunting testimony about death that is filled with life." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Anne Boyer's radically unsentimental account of cancer and the 'carcinogenosphere' obliterates cliche. By demonstrating how her utterly specific experience is also irreducibly social, she opens up new spaces for thinking and feeling together. The Undying is an outraged, beautiful, and brilliant work of embodied critique." - Ben Lerner, author of The Topeka School

"The Undying is the pink ribbon's undoing, a methodical and exquisite refusal of the contemporary moral and medical narratives pinned to the sick. Boyer explores near death and not-dying with a transfixing lust for life, drawing upon the cancer writings of Sontag, Lorde and Acker, as well as the accounts of YouTube vloggers, to construct this astonishingly generous work about her illness and the world's. It's a very important book." - Johanna Fateman

"A classic―a book that expands in all directions to fill an empty space in the literature of illness. I have long thought of Boyer as a genius against genius, speaking from the sea of people in a voice that cannot help but be heard above the others, it is so clear and strong. And The Undying is a book that is beautifully against: against cancer, against easy metaphors, above all against 'the pink ribbon on the for-sale sign on the mansion.'" - Patricia Lockwood, author of Priestdaddy

This information about The Undying was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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CarolT

She found the words I looked for
It's been so long since my own diagnosis and treatment that the trauma has (mostly) faded into the mists. Boyer's triple negative was far worse than my stage 1, but her descriptions were right on and her poet's brain said things my less poetic writing could not.

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Author Information

Anne Boyer

Anne Boyer is a poet and essayist. She was the inaugural winner of the 2018 Cy Twombly Award for Poetry from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts and winner of the 2018 Whiting Award in nonfiction/poetry. Her books include A Handbook of Disappointed Fate as well as several books of poetry, including the 2016 CLMP Firecracker Award–winning Garments Against Women. She was born and raised in Kansas, and was educated in its public schools and libraries. Since 2011, Boyer has been a professor at the Kansas City Art Institute. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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