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Alice & Oliver
Cover of Alice & Oliver
Alice & Oliver
A Novel
The award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Children has created an unflinching yet deeply humane portrait of a young family's journey through a medical crisis, laying bare a couple's love and fears as they fight for everything that's important to them.
New York, 1993. Alice Culvert is a caring wife, a doting new mother, a loyal friend, and a soulful artist—a fashion designer who wears a baby carrier and haute couture with equal aplomb. In their loft in Manhattan's gritty Meatpacking District, Alice and her husband, Oliver, are raising their infant daughter, Doe, delighting in the wonders of early parenthood.
Their life together feels so vital and full of promise, which makes Alice's sudden cancer diagnosis especially staggering. In the span of a single day, the couple's focus narrows to the basic question of her survival. Though they do their best to remain brave, each faces enormous pressure: Oliver tries to navigate a labyrinthine healthcare system and handle their mounting medical bills; Alice tries to be hopeful as her body turns against her. Bracing themselves for the unthinkable, they must confront the new realities of their marriage, their strengths as partners and flaws as people, how to nourish love against all odds, and what it means to truly care for another person.
Inspired by the author's life, Alice & Oliver is a deeply affecting novel written with stunning reserves of compassion, humor, and wisdom. Alice Culvert is an extraordinary character—a woman of incredible heart and spirit—who will remain in memory long after the final page.
Praise for Alice & Oliver
"This hauntingly powerful novel follows a family's fight for survival in the face of illness. A stirring elegy to a marriage."O: The Oprah Magazine
"A rewarding reading experience . . . a testament to the resilience of humans and our willingness to forgive."San Francisco Chronicle
"The novel's power is in its two characters' messy negotiation of their fears, errors and shifting affections. . . . Bock offers a forceful reminder that there are plenty of roiling emotions underneath that till-death-do-us-part."Los Angeles Times

"[A] heart-wrenching story of a young couple whose lives change when Alice gets diagnosed with cancer . . . a refreshingly unsentimental look at the vicious disease."Entertainment Weekly
"Alice & Oliver [has a] tough-minded commitment to truth-telling."The Washington Post
"Even more than the meticulous details of drugs, treatments and side effects, Bock's tender portrayal of [his characters] in all their desolation gives [Alice & Oliver] its ring of truth. . . . I loved this novel."—Marion Winik, Newsday
"Alice & Oliver shows that, even in a situation that's about as terrible as it can be, there can still exist happiness, surprise, and life, that strange strong spirit that's with us until the end."The Boston Globe
"The most honest, unsentimentally powerful novel about cancer that I've ever read."—Michael Christie, The Globe & Mail
"Wrenchingly powerful . . . Bock chronicles the daily struggles of a young wife and mother facing her own imminent mortality. This is a soul portrait of a family in crisis, written with a fearless clarity and a deep understanding of the bonds that can hold two people together even in the darkest hour."—Richard Price
From the Hardcover edition.
The award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Children has created an unflinching yet deeply humane portrait of a young family's journey through a medical crisis, laying bare a couple's love and fears as they fight for everything that's important to them.
New York, 1993. Alice Culvert is a caring wife, a doting new mother, a loyal friend, and a soulful artist—a fashion designer who wears a baby carrier and haute couture with equal aplomb. In their loft in Manhattan's gritty Meatpacking District, Alice and her husband, Oliver, are raising their infant daughter, Doe, delighting in the wonders of early parenthood.
Their life together feels so vital and full of promise, which makes Alice's sudden cancer diagnosis especially staggering. In the span of a single day, the couple's focus narrows to the basic question of her survival. Though they do their best to remain brave, each faces enormous pressure: Oliver tries to navigate a labyrinthine healthcare system and handle their mounting medical bills; Alice tries to be hopeful as her body turns against her. Bracing themselves for the unthinkable, they must confront the new realities of their marriage, their strengths as partners and flaws as people, how to nourish love against all odds, and what it means to truly care for another person.
Inspired by the author's life, Alice & Oliver is a deeply affecting novel written with stunning reserves of compassion, humor, and wisdom. Alice Culvert is an extraordinary character—a woman of incredible heart and spirit—who will remain in memory long after the final page.
Praise for Alice & Oliver
"This hauntingly powerful novel follows a family's fight for survival in the face of illness. A stirring elegy to a marriage."O: The Oprah Magazine
"A rewarding reading experience . . . a testament to the resilience of humans and our willingness to forgive."San Francisco Chronicle
"The novel's power is in its two characters' messy negotiation of their fears, errors and shifting affections. . . . Bock offers a forceful reminder that there are plenty of roiling emotions underneath that till-death-do-us-part."Los Angeles Times

"[A] heart-wrenching story of a young couple whose lives change when Alice gets diagnosed with cancer . . . a refreshingly unsentimental look at the vicious disease."Entertainment Weekly
"Alice & Oliver [has a] tough-minded commitment to truth-telling."The Washington Post
"Even more than the meticulous details of drugs, treatments and side effects, Bock's tender portrayal of [his characters] in all their desolation gives [Alice & Oliver] its ring of truth. . . . I loved this novel."—Marion Winik, Newsday
"Alice & Oliver shows that, even in a situation that's about as terrible as it can be, there can still exist happiness, surprise, and life, that strange strong spirit that's with us until the end."The Boston Globe
"The most honest, unsentimentally powerful novel about cancer that I've ever read."—Michael Christie, The Globe & Mail
"Wrenchingly powerful . . . Bock chronicles the daily struggles of a young wife and mother facing her own imminent mortality. This is a soul portrait of a family in crisis, written with a fearless clarity and a deep understanding of the bonds that can hold two people together even in the darkest hour."—Richard Price
From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book 1993

    There she was, Alice Culvert, a little taller than most, her figure fuller than she would have liked. This brisk morning, the fourth Wednesday of November, Alice was making her way down West Thirteenth. Her infant was strapped to her chest; her backpack was overloaded and pulling at her shoulders. The Buddhist skull beads around her wrist kept a rattling time. She drank coffee from a paper cup. Sweat bubbled from her neck. Her scarf kept unraveling. She was rocking knee-­high boots—­sensuous leather, complicated buckles. Her gaze remained arrow straight, focused on some unseen goal. But she was slowing. A businessman only had a moment to avoid running into her. Alice bent over, coughing now, a coughing fit, bringing forth something phlegmy, bloody.

    This couldn't happen. Thanksgiving plans in Vermont had been set for too long; her mother was insane to see the Blueberry. And an extended weekend at Mom's, with pecan cobbler and free round-­the-­clock childcare, trumped whatever bug she'd caught this time. She'd just have to swallow it, pretend her usual zazz hadn't been absent for the last week, throbs weren't emanating from her temples. This was adulthood, honeysuckle. You soldiered on. She was going to be on time, meeting Oliver at the rental car place. Alice regularly picked up winter coughs like they were sample swatches; she'd spent all afternoon batting that lozenge back and forth between her cheeks (the ground strokes lazy, the rally unending), hacking through the last of her chores (folding T-­shirts into her knapsack, making sure the baby bag was loaded with Wet-­Naps). Out of their apartment, down the front steps, everything had been ginger. Right until the coughing, three increasingly violent retches. The jewel of phlegm—­its hue the light pink of a rose pearl—­was probably nothing but saliva and coloring dye number five. Just goopy residue from the cherry cough drop.

    The rental agency was on the rim of the West Village, usually a five-­minute walk, ten with the baby strapped to her. It took Alice half an hour. A rust-­colored Taurus was waiting out in front, its driver's door open. Oliver stood on the side, making sure the suited agent documented every last ding. "Jesus," he said. "Honey." He felt her forehead. "You all right?" She answered: "Can you take Doe?"

    Then they were emerging from the scrum of the city, into the bumper-­to-­bumper hell clogging every inch from Bridgeport to New Haven. Oliver kept blasting heat through the front compartment. No matter how many blankets Alice wrapped around herself, those weird cold sweats wouldn't stop. If anything, she felt worse, the chill deep inside her bones. Now, nearing the western border of Massachusetts, they sped down one of those empty rural interstates, tall barren trees looming dark on either side. Alice's voice quivered: "Could you pull over please?" Oliver veered into the first roadside rest area he saw, the lights of its parking lot distended and spooky. It's nothing, she assured herself, again. She lowered her seat all the way down, her body following the tight collapse as if her own internal gears and stopgaps had also received permission to give way. The sensation went beyond a mental or physical recognition of her exhaustion: she fell back and lay still in the collapsed seat and shut her eyes.

    For a time, inside the house that was her body, it was as if she were walking out of every room and turning off the lights behind her, one by one.

    Dimly, Alice was aware of tiny limbs readjusting inside the baby seat, the Blueberry letting out a contented, somnolent breath. She was aware of her husband...
About the Author-
  • Charles Bock is the author of the novel Beautiful Children, which was a New York Times bestseller and Notable Book, and which won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Harper's, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Slate, as well as in numerous anthologies. He lives with his wife, Leslie Jamison, and his daughter in New York City.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 1, 2016
    “Cancer is a hell of a disease,” Alice and her husband, Oliver, are told by a doctor early on in Alice’s diagnosis in this articulate excavation of the emotional, physical, and intellectual effects of terminal illness. Through this novel, Bock (Beautiful Children) has, by and large, translated much of his own experience of tending to his late wife—who, like Alice, was diagnosed with leukemia when their daughter was an infant. The result is a spellbinding book, pulsating with life and reminding the reader on every page that even when everything is as awful as it could possibly be, life itself is always a curious thing. Interspersed throughout the first two-thirds of the novel are occasional “Case Studies,” detached profiles of fellow patients receiving chemo, which provide a formal, almost surreal counterbalance to the intense humanity of Alice’s sickness. Though it could have been worthwhile, this device peters out before it can add much depth. But overall, this book overcomes the standard clichés to provide a beautiful, complex portrait of a family in crisis.

  • Library Journal

    February 15, 2016

    Readers will fall in love with Alice Culvert from the moment she bounces onto the page, baby strapped to her chest, cotton skirt swirling around her knee-high leather boots, and coffee in her hand. Strong yet vulnerable, she's a woman on a mission, and when she convulses in a wet, nerve-wracking cough, Bock (Beautiful Children) envelops us in a sense of foreboding. Through the eyes of those who care for Alice--husband Oliver, best friend Tilda, take-charge mom, and various New Age gurus--a picture emerges of a woman powered by a ferocious love for her daughter who refuses to be cowed by a leukemia diagnosis and pending bone-marrow transplant. Bock does not shy away from the horrible indignities concomitant with Alice's treatments, circa 1993 and a world away from today's latest protocols. Most impressive is the way the author deals so forthrightly with Oliver's difficult role as caretaker, juggling his own needs with those of his wife, his child, and his fledgling business. VERDICT Informed by his own wife's illness and death, Bock's novel is a searingly honest, wryly funny, deeply loving tribute to those facing mortality and struggling through the maze of health insurance and treatment options while trying to hold on to their humanity. [See Prepub Alert, 10/26/15.]--Sally Bissell, formerly with Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Joshua Ferris "Alice & Oliver is a wrenchingly powerful novel. Charles Bock chronicles the daily struggles of a young wife and mother facing her own imminent mortality. This is a soul portrait of a family in crisis, written with a fearless clarity and a deep understanding of the bonds that can hold two people together even in the darkest hour."--Richard Price "I was amazed that such a heartbreaking narrative could also affirm, on every page, why we love this frustrating world and why we hold on to it for as long as we can. Alice Culvert is a character of such fight and such spirit, such thrumming aliveness, that she takes on an epic dimension. Charles Bock has stared down life's most difficult questions to write a truly revelatory, truly great book."
  • Matthew Thomas "The sun is rising, and I am only now looking up from the closing lines of Charles Bock's astonishing Alice & Oliver. I can't remember the last time I stayed up all night to finish a book. This novel laid me waste. It was so beautiful, so perfectly realized, so lavishly and gorgeously written, so eviscerating, and, most of all, so very true."--Ayelet Waldman "Desperately moving and beautifully life-affirming, Alice & Oliver is a study in the power love has to give purpose to existence. Bock dramatizes what we all hope for in our lives: that the love we give will be stronger than the limits of our personality. This luminous and unforgettable novel will leave an indelible mark on the literature of our time."
  • Rivka Galchen "Alice & Oliver is a scorchingly honest description of cancer's indignities and the toll they take on human relationships; it is, equally, an unparalleled narrative description of intimacy, of how devotion can by turns exalt and humiliate its victims. The book chronicles betrayal: how we betray one another and how our bodies betray us. Like other fine elegies, it is redemptive and devastating, testimony to a love so violently real that it seems to obliterate any other possible truth."--Andrew Solomon "Charles Bock has written a profound and radiant novel, and what particularly amazes me is that he has created such beauty from the fluorescent lights of hospital corridors, from uncomfortable New York City apartments, from a family doing what it takes to survive. Alice & Oliver is at once a very sad novel, and also a happy one, full of the hope of finding ways to love each little moment of our lives. It shows us how love and compassion can always serve as guides whenever we feel most lost."
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