Friday, December 17, 2010

Alice Eve Cohen's "What I Thought I Knew"

Alice Eve Cohen is a solo theatre artist, playwright, and memoirist. Her memoir, What I Thought I Knew won Elle's Lettres 2009 Grand Prix for Nonfiction, it was selected as one of Oprah Magazine’s 25 Best Books of Summer, and has been optioned for a television movie by Lifetime.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to What I Thought I Knew and reported the following:
What do you know! Page 99 is absolutely representative of my memoir about my unexpected and terrifying pregnancy. It falls right in the middle of the book, just before a major turning point. The page encompasses the book’s central themes and its two parallel stories.

It starts out with a scene from my Solo Theater Class:
“After the rehearsal is over, I ask my students ‘Why do people make theatre? Why do you want to perform, and for whom?’

Dani: ‘My performance is a gift for the class.’

Miriam: ‘I’m going to invite my extended family over for dinner and make them watch my solo show about my two grandmothers arguing over tea in heaven. After I perform, I won’t let them out till everybody puts this dumb feud to rest.’

Kayla: ‘I want to perform my piece for inner city black teens and for rich suburban white teens at the same time—Yeah, right. In my dreams.’

Jeremiah: ‘I’ll perform this everywhere, for everyone who will listen to me.’”
Parallel to the story of my pregnancy is the story of my solo theatre class; in particular, a student named Dani, a choreographer my age who is dying of cancer. As I try to make sense of my terrifying predicament, I gain courage and insight from my students. In this passage, I ask them why we make art, why we tell stories—a question that preoccupied me while I was writing the book. In this class, the dress rehearsal before the student performance, I was very pregnant. I’d been on bed rest for three months, only permitted to get out of bed to teach my class once a week. (Coincidentally, I still teach this solo theater course. Last night was the student performance, and just a week ago, I told my class about Miriam’s unusual reason for creating her solo theater piece.)
“At Dr. Rosenbloom’s insistence, I switch to a new doctor she recommended, at New York Hospital’s obstetrics clinic. ‘If the baby has medical problems, your insurance won’t cover it unless your doctor is in-network. You could incur costs you would never be able to pay off in your entire life.’”
Medical and health insurance travails are core subjects in the book. Medical malpractice was the cause of my nearly disastrous pregnancy—which several doctors failed to discover, until I was raced to an emergency CAT scan for an abdominal tumor, only to find out that I was six months pregnant. I was trapped in an inadequate insurance plan, tripped up again and again by our dysfunctional health care system. While desperately trying to undo the damage that had already been done to the developing fetus, I went deeper and deeper into debt.
“I like my new, in-network doctor, Barbara. I don’t have to tell her the whole story. She treats me like a regular pregnant woman, with no extra drama. She’s warm, confident. She speaks about my baby with great affection. I feel safe with her.

‘It’s getting close to your due date, and you haven’t begun to dilate. We should be seeing some action down there. I want you to get out of bed and walk. Have sex if you want. Get things moving. This is it, the final stretch.’

I cup my left hand underneath my huge belly to support it, so it will hurt less. Walking a block feels like running a marathon.”
Among the many doctors in my book, there are good guys and bad guys. Barbara is one of the good guys. Page 99 is, to quote Barbara, “the final stretch.” On page 101, I go into labor. The next section begins with a new baby…and unfathomable new complications.
Read an excerpt from What I Thought I Knew, and learn more about the book and author at Alice Eve Cohen's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue