Synopses & Reviews
WINNER OF THE 2020 PULITZER PRIZE IN GENERAL NONFICTION
"The Undying is a startling, urgent intervention in our discourses about sickness and health, art and science, language and literature, and mortality and death. In dissecting what she terms 'the ideological regime of cancer, ' Anne Boyer has produced a profound and unforgettable document on the experience of life itself." — Sally Rooney, author of Normal People
Anne Boyer's radically unsentimental account of cancer and the 'carcinogenosphere' obliterates cliche. By demonstrating how her utterly specific experience is also irreducibly social, she opens up new spaces for thinking and feeling together. The Undying is an outraged, beautiful, and brilliant work of embodied critique. — Ben Lerner, author of The Topeka School
A week after her forty-first birthday, the acclaimed poet Anne Boyer was diagnosed with highly aggressive triple-negative breast cancer. For a single mother living paycheck to paycheck who had always been the caregiver rather than the one needing care, the catastrophic illness was both a crisis and an initiation into new ideas about mortality and the gendered politics of illness.
A twenty-first-century Illness as Metaphor, as well as a harrowing memoir of survival, The Undying explores the experience of illness as mediated by digital screens, weaving in ancient Roman dream diarists, cancer hoaxers and fetishists, cancer vloggers, corporate lies, John Donne, pro-pain "dolorists," the ecological costs of chemotherapy, and the many little murders of capitalism. It excoriates the pharmaceutical industry and the bland hypocrisies of "pink ribbon culture" while also diving into the long literary line of women writing about their own illnesses and ongoing deaths: Audre Lorde, Kathy Acker, Susan Sontag, and others.
A genre-bending memoir in the tradition of The Argonauts, The Undying will break your heart, make you angry enough to spit, and show you contemporary America as a thing both desperately ill and occasionally, perversely glorious.
"The pink ribbon, that ubiquitous emblem of breast cancer awareness, has long been an object of controversy and derision, but the poet and essayist Anne Boyer doesn't just pull it loose, unfastening its dainty loop; she feeds it through a shredder and lights it on fire, incinerating its remains...[in her] extraordinary and furious new book." Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times
"[Boyer's] writing is precise and comprehensive, intimate and philosophical; its self-awareness is so rigorous it feels almost extravagant. It's hard to imagine how she made this book, so near to the agony it documents. Like Lorde, like Susan Sontag, this writer enters the hell of cancer with a practice of lucidity that somehow endures through lucidity's excruciating loss." Hilary Plum, Los Angeles Review of Books
"Boyer's book, ambitious in scope, is honed to a precision that feels hard-won. The politics of illness — how the profit motive determines life and damage and death; how victim blaming is enshrined; how social norms can disable and kill — have rarely been limned with such clarity and grace. Lidija Haas, Harper's Magazine
About the Author
Anne Boyer is a poet and essayist. She was the inaugural winner of the 2018 Cy Twombly Award for Poetry from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts and winner of the 2018 Whiting Award in nonfiction/poetry. Her books include A Handbook of Disappointed Fate as well as several books of poetry, including the 2016 CLMP Firecracker Award-winning Garments Against Women. She was born and raised in Kansas, and was educated in its public schools and libraries. Since 2011, Boyer has been a professor at the Kansas City Art Institute. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri.