Cbr13bingo Fauna, Bingo #1 (Flora to Fauna)
I’m on a roll with memoirs, this being my third in a row. Cecily Strong of SNL fame spent 2020 the way many of us did — holed up at home trying to get through the early stages of the pandemic. She and a couple of friends left NYC for a house rental in a more remote area of New York where she struggled with fear of the virus and the loss of people close to her. Yet her primary loss and grief started before COVID began to ravage New York. This memoir is a year-long chronicle of Strong’s grief over the loss of her much loved cousin Owen. As with the two previous memoirs I’ve read and reviewed, this book focuses on mental health struggles rooted in past experience and current trauma.
Cecily Strong had been very close to her two younger cousins Owen and Leda for a long time. Their mutual love for each other is evident in the stories that Strong tells throughout her memoir. In January of 2020, at the age of 30, Owen died from glioblastoma, aka brain cancer, aka the worst cancer. It is a vicious, aggressive cancer for which there is no cure. My own sister-in-law was diagnosed with glioblastoma in November of 2019. She died July 3, 2020. Duke University’s medical center has been trying an experimental intervention first developed for polio, and Owen was involved in trials of this approach. His family, including Cecily, remain close to the doctor who worked with him there. In her memoir, Strong tells stories about her interactions with this kind and caring doctor, as well as stories about her family and growing up in Chicago.
The memoir is set up in diary form, with dates for entries. It reads very much like stream-of-consciousness, with Strong dipping back into her personal history as her memory takes her there and then jumping back in to the current moment. In Strong’s current moment, she struggles with a new relationship she had begun in the December before the pandemic with a man named Jack. She and Jack are separated during the initial months of self-quarantining, and Jack has had COVID, something that frightens Cecily to the core. The current moment also involves grieving the loss of Owen, sadness over not being with him when he died, and her fear and anger over the devastation that COVID wreaks in NYC.
When Strong goes into her past, the reader learns of other trauma and loss she has experienced: being kicked out of high school and eventually finding the performing arts school; her parents’ separation and divorce; the tragic deaths of two friends; and an abusive relationship with a boyfriend she had had since high school. Strong speaks warmly and lovingly about her family and her good friends, such as Rashida. She is painfully aware of her own insecurities and works very hard to try to balance herself and her relationships while being separated from those she loves. Her grief over Owen is on every page, but so is her desire to be well and to be funny like Owen was and would have wanted her to be.
I imagine more quarantine memoirs are on the horizon, and I think there is a value in books like this if for no other reason than they show us as we suffer and grieve in our own ways that we are not alone. That what we are feeling is human. That we might need help to keep going. And, as all Cannonballers know, that cancer is a bitch. I think Cecily Strong, like Sinead O’Connor and Erin French, is very brave to write out what she has experienced and felt, how she has struggled, suffered, and pushed on. It could really expose these women up to all kinds of mean remarks and attacks, but they seem to understand that people who react that way aren’t their target audience. I hope they and all of us can find the strength to get through these troubled days and continue joyfully to pursue our dreams.