Hand in the Dark review: An emotionally stunning journey into dealing with cancer
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Owen Marrett’s Hand in the Dark: What Happens When Someone You Know Has Cancer is a subtle yet beautiful blend of storytelling and self-help. Told in a non-chronological narrative, the author’s debut book welcomes readers into intimate moments of the most harrowing experience one could ever go through. Sometimes it isn’t pretty – but it’s real, and all the more astounding for it.
Hand in the Dark tells the true story of how Marrett’s mother received a cancer diagnosis in 2018.
At first, his reaction and response to the life-changing event are detailed with a fine-toothed comb in excerpts taken from his personal diary.
The crushing blow of the news seeps palpably through the pages penned by a son struggling to deal with the potential mortality of his mother.
Marrett follows this heartbreaking story up by weaving chapters of pseudo-narrative through pages dedicated to helping others that might be going through the same life event.
The author says Hand in the Dark has two goals: To tell his cancer story and peel back the layers of his emotional journey over an 18-month span; on top of helping anyone who needs it. To urge others to look for the help he didn’t.
Marrett isn’t condescending in his approach, however. He says it himself: “I don’t claim to be special or unique. I do claim to be observant, descriptive and open as a person … this could happen to anyone.”
It is hard not to read Hand in the Dark and be truly touched.
Every step of Hand in the Dark is for the reader. The book’s structure is emboldened by a timeline system – that illustrates which part of Marrett’s story is being told – as well as label markings (blue, green, yellow, red) that warn readers about the content of the ensuing pages. These touches allow readers to use the book as something it probably wasn’t intended for: A reference book.
Marrett even included a glossary in the final few pages that break down some of the more common language used during cancer diagnosis and treatment.
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Some of the more harrowing chapters are aptly named (Mid Term; Chemotherapy: Day One) and offer glimpses into what one might expect if found in one of these scenarios.
Hand in the Dark shows just how completely and traumatically someone’s cancer diagnosis can affect those closest to them. Sure, this story has been told countless times in TV and film before, but nothing has been as grounded and painfully emotional as this. It is heartbreaking, to say the least.
Marrett rips through any misconceptions about cancer with a deft hand to help any in his position – his peers.
The most striking part of the relatively short book is how Marrett lays himself bare absolutely.
Other self-help books or cancer stories might shy away from the self-loathing, guilt, and self-harm experienced by those on the sidelines. Hand in the Dark is not other books. Everything is out on the table here.
However, it is important to note that this isn’t a journey into schadenfreude, but rather a stand in solidarity.
Marrett shows his readers that, yes, during cancer’s reign things get bad. Sometimes they can go from bad to worse. But it has happened to others, too. It has happened to him and he is here to help.
By showing readers how he dealt with his problems through the 18-month journey of the book – the good choices and the bad choices – Marrett quashes further stigmas surrounding grief, avoidance and far more.
In doing so, Marrett successfully bridges the gaps between building a self-help book for those in need; telling a grounded and painful true story while delicately explaining how things are going to go.
But this is real life. Happy endings aren’t guaranteed. And Marrett’s journey, although told exquisitely in Hand in the Dark, will continue.
The final pages of the book reveal a sequel is coming that will detail how his mother’s cancer journey has gone on into the COVID-19 pandemic and the struggles he and his family have endured since.
Until then, if you have been affected by this story, seek help at Macmillan cancer support, or contact the Samaritans.
Make a donation to Cancer Research UK here.
Buy Hand in the Dark here.
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