Sick Joke is Newfoundland journalist Glenn Deir’s memoir about his battle with cancer, which he discovered he had just as he was coming to the end of a stint working in Japan. Throughout the pages of his sometimes funny, sometimes insightful, and always believably cranky portrait of a man dealing with cancer, he intersperses the story with reflections on his time in Japan and interesting things that happened to him there.
That really sums up my only quibble with this otherwise fine book: the title is misleading. Somehow it gives the impression that Glenn Deir’s story of Japan and Glenn Deir’s story of cancer are linked — like that he had cancer and was treated for it while he was in Japan (which would provide an interesting glimpse into the medical system in a different country) or that he had cancer here, was treated for it, and went to Japan to recover, which would be interesting in a different way. A cursory glance at the book will make it clear this isn’t so: the Japan part of the story is over before the book begins, and reappears only in flashbacks — some of which seem quite organic, while others seem shoehorned in there just to justify Japan’s presence in the book’s title.
As a funny, honest memoir about cancer, this book is really good. Just don’t expect the Japan connection to be very strong, or a major theme in the book. Really, a change in title is all it would have taken for this book to be a total winner for me, but it goes to show how the wrong title can set up false expectations — at least in one reader’s mind! However, I’m reminded of what Anne Lamott writes about when her father was dying and she asked the librarian where were the funny books about cancer, and got a strange look in return. There aren’t enough funny books about cancer, and this is a good one.