Eve Wallinga has penned a fascinating story of healing and recovery in The Voodoo Breast. New Orleans becomes a character in and of itself as a couple deals with the wounds, both psychological and physical, left by a battle with cancer.
Allie and Kevin are stunned when Allie is diagnosed with breast cancer. Though surgery leaves her cancer-free, it also leaves her missing a breast, and the two head to a clinic in New Orleans for reconstructive surgery. They find the other end of the Mississippi River quite different from their Minnesota home, and it isn’t long before more open-minded Allie becomes entranced with voodoo and begins having supernatural experiences. Long-buried tensions surface between the couple as their marriage heads toward the rocks.
The third-person narration switches smoothly from Allie to Kevin, allowing for glimpses into the thoughts of both. This humanizes them as they are viewed both internally and through the eyes of their partner. For example, Kevin’s reluctance to go to New Orleans is not the disinterest in his wife’s happiness that she perceives it to be, but is instead a concern over money and a worry over losing his job. It is Allie who comes across as the more sympathetic of the two, however. With her supernatural experiences so matter-of-factly described, her sanity is never really brought into question. This makes Kevin’s disbelief more frustrating, adding complexity to a character who’s already self-centered and insensitive, which is played at odds with his profession as a psychologist.
Allie’s reconstructive surgery is well paralleled with the reconstruction of New Orleans after Katrina. Seeing the water marks on passing walls “like a scar,” Allie wonders, “How can they possibly fix all this damage?” Wallinga has a talent for evoking just the right emotions with her word choices: “Getting the cancer was like finding a black spider crawling up her arm. No thought intervenes between the sight of the thing and the immediate, instinctive act of sweeping it off, away.” With its supernatural twist, The Voodoo Breast is a welcome and unique addition to the genre of cancer fiction.
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