Cancer has the power to transform the lives of those who are struck by it, as well as the lives of close family members. That’s the theme of the new novel by Burlington writer David Huddle. The Faulkes Chronicle focuses on Karen Faulkes, the matriarch of a large family – very large, with more than two dozen kids – and how the family’s relationships are tested by her cancer.
But cancer has an unexpected side effect on Karen Faulkes: it makes her seem unusually beautiful. For her insular, plain-looking family, this sudden beautification feels like a betrayal. The idea for the mother’s transformation came from Huddle’s own experience when one of his friends underwent a similar change as a result of chemotherapy, he said.
“I’m not sure that I would call her beautiful or pretty, but somehow, the chemo affected her in a way that made her much more appealing, which was startling and a little bit disturbing,” he said.
Cancer also touched Huddle’s life more directly a few years ago. His mother-in-law had been in the hospital more than a month when she released to die at home. “So my family, and my wife’s sister’s family, and boyfriends and husbands -- there must have been maybe twenty of us in the house in the presence of that death,” he said. “It was quite a moving experience. Huddle says the theme of The Faulkes Chronicle was informed by that experience. “Even though I think all of us would say that it was a very good thing that we were there in the presence of the matriarch’s dying, it really set us off. We sort of ricocheted off each other, walked around the house. It’s almost as if, even though we had known it was coming, it was like an emotional explosion that seemed to hit everybody in a different way.”
In writing his new novel, Huddle says he wanted it to be an “unsentimental journey.” Huddle says, “the mother is a character who is always giving the straight-arm to sentimentality. She just won’t have it very much, even though it’s very clear that she cares deeply about all these kids, her whole family.”
Note: Huddle will read from his new book at Phoenix Books in Burlington on Tuesday, Sept. 30, at 7 p.m.