I love a memoir with a twist, a unique approach that up-ends my expectations. That’s what I got with The Vitals, Tracy Sorensen’s wildly inventive cancer memoir. The champions at Macmillan sent me a copy for review.
Sorensen is a carrier of the BRCA1 gene mutation (yes, the same one that Angelina Jolie has), and it manifested as peritoneal cancer in 2010. She underwent treatment, and thankfully went into remission for eight years. Her memoir, though, isn’t really about that, largely because of the unique perspective from which she writes. The Vitals is narrated by (get this) her internal organs.
Yes, it’s high-concept, but go with it! Her body becomes The Assemblage (of organs, geddit?). Each organ – liver, spleen, stomach – has its own name, personality, and motivation. My favourites were her ovaries, two barking kelpies on a leash held by Ute (her uterus, represented as a moving utility vehicle). Of course, as is my luck with fictional dogs of late, they disappeared – but the metaphor gave me enough distance not to be too disturbed by it.
The Vitals evokes Chris Flynn, or Laura Jean McKay – Australian authors who de-anthropomorphise perspective in their writing, with a healthy spoonful of humour to make the searing insight go down. The influence of the pandemic was also clear on her writing, as the organs have daily Zoom meetings to communicate.
Sadly, I learned as I was putting this review together, Sorensen’s cancer has returned and she found out just as The Vitals hit the shelves. Ain’t that a rotten plot twist? I wish her, and all her organs, the very best of luck in treatment and recovery. Hopefully, we’ll be treated to a sequel when she and the team beat it once again.
Buy The Vitals on Booktopia here. (affiliate link)