Alice in Bed by Cathleen Schine is the debut novel of the writer, and for that reason alone it shines, without getting too sentimental. I normally am petrified of reading a debut novel, for two reasons alone: I might end up loving it, which means that if the second novel disappoints, I would not read the author again or I might end up not liking it and then that is the end of it anyway. In both the cases, it is a loss-loss situation. Having said that, I am looking forward to reading all of Schine’s books (Alice in Bed was first published in 1983) – To the Birdhouse, The Love letter, The Evolution of Jane and The Three Weissmanns of Westport.
Alice in Bed, as the title suggests is about Alice in Bed. Her legs are stiff and she cannot walk, nor can she move them. Pain is a part and parcel of her life and she has somehow gotten used to it. She is prodded and poked in the hospital by doctors – engulfed by her ailments with no hope in sight. She is at the hospital and that is her life. The doctors do not know what is wrong with her and Alice is pissed. The transformation occurs when Alice gets around the hospital (in its hallways and outside) and gets to know more people and their lives and analyses her own with that funny wit and sardonic humour. She also falls in love (temporarily though) with a blond surfer before she returns home.
Hospitals are not the happiest places to be at. Schine knows how to portray “hospital life” with such clarity that the reader is sometimes taken aback. The book is morbid and funny at the same time. There was something odd and crazy at the same time about the characters in the hospital and yet there were times that I caught myself warming up to them.
The most interesting part about the book is that it is not narrated in the whiny tone which could have been possible. Instead it is refreshing (given the hospital in question) and hilarious. It takes a look at life with a “tongue-in-cheek” approach and “in-your-face” writing style. Cathleen Schine is such a good writer that even if there are parts you do not agree with (which was the case when I was reading it) or not like, it doesn’t really matter. My favourite characters were Alice’s distracted mother to Dr. Davis and Simchas Fresser. There is wit, pathos, and sometimes sex as well in the book. Alice in Bed sparkles on almost every level.