Cotton Teeth: A Memoir
by Glenn Rockowitz
Harper & Case

"Tomorrow may not be better, but it will be different."

When Rockowitz was diagnosed with cancer and given three months to live, he was twenty-six, and his wife was eight and a half months pregnant with their first child. One week later, his father was also diagnosed with cancer. The author writes about his and his father's struggles with the disease in the context of their close relationship. He also reveals a horrific event from his childhood in which he was abused while spending several weeks at a summer camp. With such dark subject matter, one would think this would be a depressing book. However, that is far from the case. As a comedian, Rockowitz uses his quirky sense of humor throughout to break up the gravity of his narrative. He reaches into the darkness of child abuse and cancer and somehow manages to take those horrific topics and create a beautifully written commentary on life, death, and survival.

The author's work is stylistically unique. For example, Rockowitz uses a black background embossed with white ink when writing about his childhood abuse. Also, some sections are written in poetic prose with short, choppy paragraphs. This literary device is quite effective in relaying the unexpected physical effects of cancer in an episode he had on a subway: "A wave of electricity shoots through my body and everything flickers / red black / red black / redblackredblack / and I am freezing and on fire and my skull is firing off whiteyellow bolts / of lightning / and then the red is gone / and time is gone / and everything is black." The author skillfully captures the frantic feeling of this episode in the rhythm of his words in what could be called a short poem. It is an unusual writing style, but one that the author uses to perfection.

One of the book's major themes is memory, and the use of black pages when the story jumps to the past is very effective. The memory of the author's childhood molestation is horrific, and the choice of it being presented on black pages is genius. In fact, blackness plays a big part in this memoir. The blackness of despair, loneliness, pain, and confusion are examined. His father's eyes turn from green to black. The sky, air, rooms, and ICU are also black. All of this conveys the weight of facing death. Yet, the book is still filled with humor. Father and son share many laugh-out-loud moments while contemplating impending death. But as he says after making a joke at the end of a stressful situation with his father, "We laugh because it's all we have."

Rockowitz is a comedian and creator of the non-profit organization Best Medicine which "brings comedians to perform in the living rooms of homebound AIDS and cancer patients in the final weeks of their lives." He delves into the momentous events of his own life with rare honesty and bravery. He possesses a distinct voice, and his prose is intelligent and intriguing. This book is touching and poignant—a testament to the human spirit and, most of all, to the ability to find humor even in the face of tragedy. It is a fascinating read that blends creativity, form, and subject into a memorable and impressive piece of work filled with an ample supply of wisdom.

A 2022 Eric Hoffer Book Award da Vinci Eye Finalist

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