Two running books in a row! I swear it just happened like that and there probably won’t be another one for a while. Truth is, The Running-Shaped Hole and The Bright Side Running Club are vastly different books. Where The Running-Shaped Hole was a gritty memoir sometimes focusing on the mechanics of running or navigating the community, The Bright Side Running Club was fiction (though based on Josie Lloyd’s own experience) and revolved simultaneously around topics of women’s health and supportive friendship.
When Keira first receives her breast cancer diagnosis, she never expects to end up joining a running group with three women she’s only just met. Totally blind-sided, all she can think about is how she doesn’t want to tell her family or step back from work. Nor does she want to be part of a group of fellow cancer patients. Cancer is not her club.
And yet it’s running – hot, sweaty, lycra-clad running in the company of brilliant, funny women all going through treatment – that unexpectedly gives Keira the hope she so urgently needs. Because Keira will not be defined by the C-word. And now, with the Cancer Ladies’ Running Club cheering her on, she is going to reclaim everything: her family, her identity, and her life.
One step at a time.
Moving, uplifting and full of hope, this is a beautifully crafted novel about love, family and the power of finding your tribe.
Note: It appears that this book was originally titled The Cancer Ladies Running Club when it was released in Britain.
If you were to judge this book by its cover, you’d suspect it to be a typically light and formulaic work of modern women’s fiction and that is very true. (I mean that in the best way possible.) It has all the trappings: female protagonist doing the lion’s share of the work to look after her unappreciative family, husband who may or may not be doing her wrong, complicated familial relationships and a multitude of friendships, some strong, some duplicitous. It has all the right chemistry to keep you reading. What is also has is a very real experience of receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer, of the alienation when nobody around you knows how to acknowledge and support you, of the discovery and development of one’s own community, and there are some keen observations on how we function when it comes to women in society today.
Keira isn’t like me. I’m well acquainted with boundaries and don’t devote a significant part of my life to other perfectly capable family members. I have a short attention span for being taken advantage of me and I wouldn’t tolerate other people mistreating me or keeping me in the dark. I don’t relate to her character. What kept me going and what made the book really enjoyable to me was that first-hand experience in something that is so very real to so many of us. Breast cancer is no joke and sharing the real truth about what it’s like to go through a diagnosis of and recovery from it is way more helpful than any pink-washing campaign that runs through the month of October.
One of my pet peeves – not just in books, but everywhere – is the pervasiveness of “I need my wine” culture in which we trap women. Lloyd acknowledged this towards the time when her protagonist is in the throes of chemo and makes a bad decision to drink with some of her closest, non-cancer-related friends on her birthday.
I open my presents are cards and it dawns on me that every card from my friends is alcohol related. Perhaps it’s because of my hangover, or my realization that my hitherto steadfast relationship with booze has hit a rocky – possibly terminal – patch, but I’m wondering when it became the norm for women to be marketed alcohol as a coping mechanism. Because it’s virtually impossible to get a funny greeting card for a woman without it involving booze, the humor spotlighting our clandestine relationship with gin, or wine, or our need to be slightly squiffy to deal with our kids … or even just life.
We’re going to need more than pop culture references to correct this road that we have gone down, but I will continue to applaud those who do not back down from naming it and calling it out.
This isn’t my go-to genre and while I was a little annoyed by the actions of the protagonist while I was reading it, it actually showed up as a solid book overall. I enjoyed the variety of characters, the camaraderie and the nod to running. And like The Running-Shaped Hole, it did acknowledge the challenges of starting – and continuing – to run.
Thank you so much to Alcove Press and Netgalley for giving me a copy to read in an advance of the publishing date. The Bright Side Running Club will be out on February 8th.