A Life Less Convenient: Letters to My Ex

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Merge Press, 2006 - 152 pages
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A Life Less Convenient: Letters to My Ex is a collection of fictionalized short stories told in the form of letters to loves lost during the onset and daily complications of chronic illness. Each letter details the emotional and physical realities of a couple dealing with illness, and the transitions that inevitably occur as they learn to navigate through the complex changes. The book portrays the complex, often ambivalent relationship of the body in love and in disease through both pictures and text. Each letter illuminates the physical and emotional journey the narrator takes as her previously healthy body transitions?the humiliation of needing help with shaving?the joy of fresh, cold water on a searing hot day...her complex relationship with her walker?coping with the loss of hair and skin. The ugliness of the disease is offset with moments of transcendence and fidelity as she struggles to own her new body.The 22 letters are illustrated by an international group of artists, including:Sara Lando, Chris Koelbleitner, Yanni Raptis, Camil Tulcan, Hans Proppe, Duncan Gold, Fernando Montiel Klint, Daniella Zalcman, Vicki Stephenson, Adam Booth, Valentin Casarsa, Peter Nguyen, and Jose Carlos Pires Pereira.

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I have never read a book that lays out the struggles of an illness as insightful as A Life Less Convenient (ALLC) does. Jennifer Burke deserves a great deal of accolades for putting together this magnificent journey into the love affair a terminal illness has with one’s body. The ex presented in this book is a conglomeration of several people in the narrator’s life over the beginning years of her diagnosis. Her body is taken over and controlled by Lupus, and her relationships provide the emotional support she desperately needs…until her illness reels her back in and continues to destroy everything in its path, including her relationships.
A Life Less Convenient tore at my heartstrings. I saw not just illness, but reflective and insightful understanding of how a relationship had failed. In the matter-of-fact reflectiveness of the narrator, there is no blame. There is just the illness and the way both parties handled it; and that’s it. It just was. After a period of time, the end of any relationship “just was”. There is no innocent party and there is no guilty party. In any relationship, both parties deal with situations the best way they no how - right or wrong, it just ‘is’. Burke does an excellent job using Lupus as the vehicle for getting this idea across.
ALLC is a series of letters to ‘an Ex’. Each letter is in essence a short story depicting a different period of time in the evolution of the narrator’s dealings with Lupus. ALLC gives interesting insight into what people dealing with a terminal illness deals with and I suspect, will be an insightful book for those who love people with some form of terminal illness. Throughout ALLC, Burke has done an excellent job of incorporating fantastic images that portray fear, love, frustration and angst. These images are disturbing to a large degree, but help the reader understand the many facets of emotion involved with dealing with terminal illness. The letters in this book are fictitious in that names, times, situations have been changed or made up. ALLC is the writer’s way of trying to explain what was really happening to her and why its so difficult to maintain healthy relationships when one is battling an illness like Lupus.
Each letter in ALLC is a little more insightful than the last. Every letter shows incredible growth and insight into the understanding of the human factor and how relationships are affected by different obstacles.
ALLC would be a great resource for people struggling to understand the emotional, physical and relationship issues involved with a terminal illness, like Lupus. This book has the ability to provide a starting point for open and honest conversation and understanding between both parties involved in dealing with a terminal illness. This book should be recommended reading at the first diagnosis of a terminal illness.

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