Sandra has breast cancer. Even though it hasn't been officially diagnosed yet, she has felt the hard, foreign lumps and knows what they are. The weekend before her doctor's appointment she has three of her grandchildren over to her cottage with her husband, Jack, and spends time swimming and reflecting. Fast forward to four years later: Sandra is fighting the cancer and is losing. Her close friends, Colleen and Jude, and their husbands, Richard and Gus, rally around Sandra, recalling old memories and rehashing old fights. They all know that Sandra's time on Earth is coming to a close and that this is the last time that they will have together.
I'll admit that Suddenly was a slow read for me. I'm not sure if this is because the subject matter (death, the ravages of cancer) was so bleak, or if it was because of the gentle way in which Bonnie Burnard writes. She writes in such a way that we feel that we are listening in to a private conversation, and that there is no hurry to get on to the next subject. This writing style certainly succeeded in painting an intimate portrait of who Sandra was as a mother and as a woman.
I certainly appreciated this book for what it was: a look at death, dying, cancer, and above all the marriages and friendships that get us through the hard times. I love that the friendship between Sandra, Colleen, and Jude was not effortless and certainly came with its share of hurts and misunderstandings. I also enjoyed the reflections about what kind of marriage Sandra and Jack had: not perfect, yet companionable, with a steady step towards comfort and middle-age.
This book may appeal specifically to anyone who enjoyed Bonnie Burnard's previous book, A Good House, and also to people who are experiencing the pain of cancer firsthand. It may also appeal to people who enjoy reading books about friendships between women that have stood the test of time. Thank-you to Deanna at HarperCollins Canada for this review copy! You can also browse inside Suddenly here.