VANCOUVER — There’s no denying that Vancouver author Robyn Michele Levy has had a difficult time over the past five years. Between learning she had early-onset Parkinsons, coupled only months later by a diagnosis of breast cancer, the 48-year-old was well overdue for some good news.
So when her memoir, Most of Me (Greystone Books, 2011), was nominated as a finalist for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for humour writing last month, it was a timely dose of comfort. As it turns out, the award went to Patrick DeWitt for his book The Sisters Brothers, but the nomination itself was breath of fresh air in Levy’s life.
“My mom had just passed away two weeks prior and her name was Lea Levy, so this was a lovely gift of comfort and acknowledgment,” says Levy, who never quite intended to write a book in the first place.
Around the time she was undergoing operations, her friends and family were so worried and concerned that she decided to send them quirky, weekly e-mail updates “to let everyone know what was going on and to try and cheer them up,” she says.
The e-mails landed in the inbox of a publisher who was a friend of a friend, and the result was Levy’s memoir, wherein she incorporates some of her e-mails, but writes mostly about her experience over the course of treatment for breast cancer and Parkinsons, two summers ago. It’s heavy subject matter for a humour writing nomination, but it’s precisely Levy’s dark sense of humour that lifts readers from the doldrums of her illnesses, lightens the mood of her book and instigates unexpected bursts of laughter throughout.
“I’m an artist and I began to apply my creative perspective to some of the experiences I was going through,” she explains. “I was among the 50 per cent of Parkinsons patients with depression, and as I began treatment for that, my sense of humour came back.
That humour litters Most of Me with laugh-out-loud funny moments that would not appear humorous out of context – which is why I won’t quote them now – but in the memoir, add mirth and insight into Levy’s wonderful perspective. We’re taken into doctors’ offices, into private conversations with friends and into her marriage, playing witness to her personal struggle and how those around her participate in it, try to offer comfort and deal with the uncertainty she endures by way of her illnesses.
“The crux of the story is about relationships between myself and my family, caregivers, relatives, strangers and neighbours,” she says. “It’s really about community and how much we depend on each other.”
Though the core content is very serious, Levy adds her intention throughout was for Most of Me to be seen as a funny book. “The nomination lifted my spirits so much,” she confesses. “Even as I was writing it, I had in the back of my mind that it would be so great to be nominated for this award. It was a secret little dream and that part came true, which was wonderful.”