Brooklyn Voices Recap: Charles Bock Discusses ‘Alice & Oliver’

April 12, 2016

Charles BockNew York Times Bestelling Author Charles Bock presents his latest novel, in a discussion with writer Hannah Tinti

by David Henne

Shaped by the journal entries his first wife crafted throughout her struggle with leukemia, best-selling author Charles Bock’s latest novel Alice & Oliver is — at its core — hardly fiction.

But as closely as the book parallels his own life, Bock said it would have been a “horrible memoir.”

“There would be a certain point where it would just be hundreds of pages of me just screaming obscenities at people," he said Tuesday during the penultimate installment of the Spring 2016 Brooklyn Voices series, hosted by St. Joseph’s College and Greenlight Bookstore.

"On the one hand, I just never believed for a second that I could do a memoir,” added Bock, whose first wife Diana Colbert died in 2011. “The friends who I have who have written very good memoirs — what they have to do and what they have to go through to recount everything is not something that I personally felt like reliving.”

Alice & Oliver has been praised for its gritty, realistic portrayal of the devastating effects of cancer, as well as the strength of the human spirit. The book tells the story of a young wife and mother coping with a cancer diagnosis and the devastating toll the disease takes on her family.

Charles Bock and Hannah Tinti

Charles Bock discusses his newest novel, Alice & Oliver, with writer Hannah Tinti

“I do feel the power of the story. I did and do feel an obligation to honor and do some level of justice to this woman's struggle, and what she went through, and her attempt to be present for her daughter,” Bock said, speaking of his personal experiences with his wife, during a discussion with writer Hannah Tinti inside the Tuohy Hall Auditorium. “I very much want my daughter to read this book when she's 16 and have some sense of that.”

Alice & Oliver contains many beautiful and true anecdotes, pulled directly from the author's life. Bock read a passage to the crowd in which Oliver travels to the local barber and shaves his head, matching his wife Alice's bald head. Oliver then returns to his wife's hospital bed to pose for a photo — their young child nestled between them.

"This is not a cancer book. It's a love story," Tinti said. "It's about a relationship, the complexities of that. And also really about what it takes, how we depend on each other, and how people cope with life."

"I'm so happy to hear you say that, because the whole time while I was writing this, I was constantly dreading the idea of 400 pages of cancer," Bock replied. "It has to be about this, but in the process it has to be about other things. And the thing that is so powerful is what we give to one another in the worst moments. I always wanted a book where that was part of it, and where the best inclinations of people would win."

Be sure to attend our next event:

Nathaniel PhilbrickNathaniel Philbrick

Thursday, May 19, 7:30 p.m.
Nathaniel Philbrick presents Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution
Tickets $30 (includes event admission and book)


Click here for the full spring 2016 Brooklyn Voices schedule.