Foreword Reviews

The Smooth River

Finding Inspiration and Exquisite Beauty during Terminal Illness

Clarion Rating: 5 out of 5

The Smooth River is a self-help book that shows how to live a full life, even in the face of death.

Richard S. Cohen’s The Smooth River is a self-help book rooted in a painful but hope-filled personal story.

Cohen’s wife, Marcia, died of pancreatic cancer. This book is his account of the time after her diagnosis, which is shared with the express intent to help others who are facing similar situations with overwhelming odds. Marcia lived only 160 days after her diagnosis, but thanks to the attitude and approach she created with deep intention—as well as her professional expertise in crisis management—they were days of love, peace, and dignity.

The Cohens’ approach, called the Smooth River, embraces composure, adapting to difficult realities, enjoying small things, and seeing love and beauty even in the process of dying. Their story balances enduring hope with practicality, knowing that the two are not at odds. The Smooth River goes against the grain of many typical cancer mantras that center on fighting, winning, and never giving up. Instead, it embraces the wisdom of assessing the odds and, when it’s appropriate, accepting the finite nature of life. While Marcia “lost” her battle with cancer, in the conventional sense, her story shows that she, and even her husband, gained so much through the experience and the choices they made.

The bold, honest, chronological narrative provides the “unvarnished information” they sought from doctors and other advisors. The book doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable emotions and harsh statistics. It shows the principles they used to create a medical plan and life plan—a true body, mind, and spirit approach to what it means to find healing. The book demonstrates a broad view of the idea of treatment, including traditional medical approaches, like chemotherapy; spiritual approaches, like meditation; and everyday, interpersonal ideas, like airing concerns freely.

The narrative elements balance well with the clear, concise explanations of key medical and mindset perspectives. The narrative is the most engaging and transformative element of the book, and the story is told with excellence—compelling scenes, precise diction, well-crafted characterizations. While Cohen is the narrator, Marcia’s voice and values permeate the book: blunt honesty, warmth, resolute hope, and clear thinking. It’s clear through their unified voices that the couple communicated well and often in the years before her diagnosis, but especially during those trying days. While the emotions are raw—Marcia passed away in early 2020—the book keeps an appropriate distance from sentimentality while giving voice to the many emotions of grief. The appendix includes a list of books that Marcia read that influenced her life and perspective, which is a gift to readers who want to live like she did.

The Smooth River is a self-help book that shows how to live a full life, even in the face of death.

Reviewed by Melissa Wuske

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book and paid a small fee to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. Foreword Reviews and Clarion Reviews make no guarantee that the publisher will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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