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About this book
- Shortlisted for the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book!
- Shortlisted for the 2009 Relit Award!
Cleavage tracks the patchwork musings of Leah, who, at twenty-four years old and two years into a relationship, discovers she has breast cancer. Told in fragments reminiscent of A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews, Cleavage details Leah's struggles with her illness and treatments, the conflict between her disease and her boyfriend, her ambivalence toward her job, and a long-standing feud with her mother and only sister.
Excerpt from Chapter One
This is how we celebrate our last Valentine’s Day together: I draw a heart in spermicide on my diaphragm. The gel forms a protective seal that keeps him away. Inside my body it joins the conference of chemicals, circulates, makes friends. I’m here to keep her from getting pregnant, it boasts. To which the chemotherapy laughs, I don’t think you need to worry.
Hers is the same voice that says, “Your immunoglobulins came back normal,” that says, “Your lungs sound healthy,” that asks, “Are you taking a multivitamin?” that informs me, “You have a nice cervix.” I wonder what it would be like to have a mean cervix.
Hers is the same voice that says, “At twenty-four, your chances of having breast cancer are very, very slim,” that says, “Having lumpy breasts is normal,” that says, “If you were in your forties … in your thirties, even, I’d do a biopsy. But we might just want to sit on this one for awhile. Wait and see.”
Justin’s stopping—starting keeps me from sleeping. He cranes his neck to see around a semi, fluid dribbling from its exhaust pipe. I change the radio station.
“When are the dedications? I thought … are we out of range?”
“You missed them. You were sleeping.”
“I was never sleeping.”
This is how my father reacts to me introducing them: by asking Justin for haggis. “I’ve always wanted to try it. My ex-wife, uh, Leah’s mother, would never … well, you know. She just wasn’t very … ”
I interrupt, “I think it looks like something that came out of a seasick cat.”
My father says, “Why would there be a seasick cat?”
This is how they bond. Just them. Old dad, new boyfriend, Scottish cuisine.
In Invermere, the gas station rejects the credit card for our joint account. “It’s probably just a mix-up at the bank,” Justin says. “You should call them.”
I say, “I should call them?”
He uses his private card, from a separate bank, which swipes successfully. He buys the melt-in-your-mouth soft Cheetos, beef jerky, an eight-pack of Kotex, $20.03 worth of gas. “You can just pay me back,” he says.
I say, “I can just pay you back?”
His is the same voice that says, “I haven’t had a real girlfriend, ever,” that asks, “Can I kiss you?” that imitates Oscar the Grouch when he’s pissed me off, that recites quasi-sexual haikus on our eleven-month anniversary. “Tell your friends your boyfriend writes you poetry.”
His is the same voice that says, “You think you feel what? Come here. They feel fine to me. Perfect. As usual. Maybe even bigger.”
There is no such thing as not knowing. I knew from the moment I dropped the insert from the box of tampons, before I unfolded it, before I stared at the cartoon women holding their arms above their heads, squeezing their nipples, moving their fingers in larger and larger concentric circles. Looking for what I knew was there.
"The writing is superb…. As Steinbeck was a master of painting landscape with his words, Bischoff is well on her way to mastering the telling of thought, movement, and dialogue."
"This is an ambitious book and an interesting one."
"I'd highly recommend this strong debut, that touches on being young and dealing with something that can be just as terrifying as love."