The End of Your Life Book Club is a memoir of Will Schwalbe’s relationship with his mother in her final two years of life. Mary Anne Schwalbe is dying pancreatic cancer. During the time Will spends with her in various waiting rooms, the two create a book club of sorts to reconnect over a love of reading that they have shared since Will’s childhood.
This is a nonfiction book; therefore, I am quite sure that what I am about to say will only confirm my assured spot in the fires of hell: I absolutely hated this book. I have never enjoyed books of this nature. I can handle the sappiness and the emotional outpouring, it comes with the territory of terminal illness memoirs. However, the canonization of the afflicted individual is both annoying and disrespectful to that person’s memory.
Although Schwalbe chronicles his upbringing somewhat thoroughly, I wasn’t able to discern the secret source of funding that enabled his mother to travel all over the world, selflessly aiding the downtrodden peoples of less fortunate countries. Seriously, he paints Mary Anne as a carbon copy of Mother Theresa. At one point, Mary Anne even pushes an adult Will to quit his well-paying job because he often complains about it. She pays for the medication of others when they can’t afford it. When initially diagnosed, she encourages her daughter to carry on with her plans to move to Geneva.
While some people probably do live lifestyles such as these, most of us do not. This seemingly perfect upper class family dynamic somehow dampens the emotional punch. Mary Anne just seems a little too sainted, but who can blame a guy for highlighting only the best qualities of his dead mother. Nevertheless, it fails to craft the sort of raw grief that has been achieved in fictional accounts. The Fault in Our Stars, for instance, is a fictional cancer story that generates genuine, unadulterated emotion in the readers; The End of Your Life Book Club is Schwalbe’s way of dealing with his emotions.