We All Want Impossible Things – Catherine Newman

Published By: Random House
Pages: 224
Released On: 12/01/2023

Edith and Ashley have been best friends for over forty-two years. They’ve shared the mundane and the momentous together: trick or treating and binge drinking; Gilligan’s Island reruns and REM concerts; hickeys and heartbreak; surprise Scottish wakes; marriages, infertility, and children. As Ash says, “Edi’s memory is like the back-up hard drive for mine.” 

But now the unthinkable has happened. Edi is dying of ovarian cancer and spending her last days at a hospice near Ash, who stumbles into heartbreak surrounded by her daughters, ex(ish) husband, dear friends, a poorly chosen lover (or two), and a rotating cast of beautifully, fleetingly human hospice characters.

As The Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack blasts all day long from the room next door, Edi and Ash reminisce, hold on, and try to let go. Meanwhile, Ash struggles with being an imperfect friend, wife, and parent–with life, in other words, distilled to its heartbreaking, joyful, and comedic essence.

For anyone who’s ever lost a friend or had one. Get ready to laugh through your tears.

*****

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.

Whilst there was an awful lot right with this book, there were just a few niggles which brought it down slightly for me.

All the reviews I’d read said how heartbreakingly sad it is, so I knew I would be in for an emotional ride, and they weren’t wrong.

The description of hospice (whilst set in the US and I’m reading it in the UK) felt perfect. My dad spent his final 6 days in a hospice and I couldn’t have been more happy with them. As bizarre as it sounds, it became this second home, this positive, friendly place that I actually missed after he’d died. A lot of people think hospice=death, and to a point it is, but it doesn’t have to be doom and gloom all the time. And that’s where I find this book hits the mark. Yes, it’s a fictional book, but it’s so beautifully created and very close to how I felt.

There’s no getting past the fact that this is an emotional book that hits on some very difficult topics. I mean, it is about a woman dying of cancer and her best friends’ journey through it after all. It’s a tough but a worthwhile read.

I found the story and the themes very, very good, but overall, the actual writing of it, the flow of the story didn’t hit the mark for me. I found it a bit over the place, to-ing and fro-ing. And at first I thought that was a good representation of grief and cancer and hospice, but it soon became a bit too all consuming and took over from the story itself. Having said that, it definitely finds its way in the last 15-20%; it felt more focussed and I could get into the story itself better. And that’s when I could let the emotions flow.

One thing I did slightly confused by, is that the book has a picture of a cake on the front, the cake is then mentioned relatively early on, and it just wasn’t really made a big thing of, and I was waiting for it. It’s obviously not enough to negatively impact the reading of the book as such, but it was something that stuck in my head enough to mention it.

I was indifferent to a number of the characters. None of them were particularly standout for me to dislike, and they all had their role to play in the wider story. But for me, this was Ash and Edi’s story and nothing was going to take away from that.

I finished reading this on a day I’d gone out with my best friend. Since I became ill, she’s taken on so much, helping me out, pushing my wheelchair, attending medical appointments with me etc. and this book came at a really good time. I’d been feeling very depressed recently, and it spoke to my emotions. You might wonder why I choose to read a sad book if I’m feeling sad, and not an uplifting, fun one, but it’s like listening to sad music…somehow it just works. And reading this made me think about my friendship and how I would deal with a similar situation.

It’s a short read, but packed full of love and friendship, sadness and grief, and, surprisingly, humour. A dark humour definitely, but it definitely raised a smile or two. And it’s a beautiful exploration of friendship, possibly the best exploration I’ve read. Friendship cannot cure cancer, but it can help whilst on the journey.

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