When people who aren't writers write about having cancer, I find their stories compelling and heartbreaking --- after all, these are just plain folks who don't usually have the arsenal and experience of a lifetime of creative wordsmithery behind them to utilize in explaining for us a horrific and deadly time in their life. When writers get cancer, they get cute and funny and self-deprecating to the point that you start to lose the sense of immediate fear and danger in which these people have found themselves. And, like with a thriller starring a very big Hollywood star, you know that in the end the star will not be killed off, because no one kills off Mel Gibson or Harrison Ford --- they are built to last. Thus, in BALD IN THE LAND OF BIG HAIR, Joni Rodgers, by virtue of the fact that she is writing this book, lets us know that a) writers make cancer funny and b) writers who write books about cancer don't die --- they happily slip into remission.
It's not that I want to downplay the nightmare it must be to have cancer at all. Certainly, Rodgers, a writer/actress and mother of two, has many things she does not wish to lose in her life, particularly her ability to live that life. A free spirit who worked as a radio disc jockey for years as well as a trained thespian and all-around creative nymph, Rodgers engages us in her story but ultimately the story is about someone who is going through the painful steps of grabbing back her life from the angry clutches of cancer. It is not funny, really. It is sad and scary, and I can't help wondering how I would react to the book if I (knock on wood) got sick like that. I would assume that people who actually have cancer might find comfort in Rodgers's tale --- I just find the fear that, of all the things I worry about on a regular basis, I should add 'possible cancer' to my list because it seems to hit so many people who have no family history of it whatsoever.
The title tips you off to Rodgers's rather flamboyant personality and thus will give you a heads-up on her writing style as well: part sitcom-writer with the easy joke, part Borscht Belt comic with an old one for the aging crowd, part fearful human, part brave and courageous mom who wants to see her kids grow up. BALD IN THE LAND OF BIG HAIR has a resounding bravado that makes the story easier to digest, even among all the references Rodgers makes to what a crazy, kooky gal she has always been (which sometimes become too dazzling and show-stoppping for the story she is telling). Joni Rodgers is, above all else, a survivor and she lets you know it.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 21, 2011
Bald in the Land of Big Hair: A True Story