Let's Talk by Evan Hunter, a.k.a. Ed McBain (2005)
For this week's Forgotten Book I have chosen one that is more in the "little known" than in the "forgotten" territory. Let's Talk was one of Evan Hunter's last books, published in 2005, the year of his death, in Great Britain only, and was only one of two non-fiction books Hunter ever published. (The other was Me and Hitch, a brief 1997 memoir on working with Alfred Hitchcock on the movies The Birds and Marnie.)
As the cover of Let's Talk explains, the book is a "Story of Cancer and Love." In October of 1992, Hunter visited an ENT specialist about a case of swimmer's ear that had been bothering him. After examining him, the doctor asked how long Hunter had had the sore throat. He hadn't realized had had a sore throat until the doctor posed the question. Thinking back, Hunter said a couple of months. The doctor had noticed a suspicious area on his vocal cords, eventually sending Hunter for a biopsy.
The biopsy came back showing no evidence of cancer, but did show a "moderate squamous dysplasia" -- pre-cancerous cells -- which was completely excised. Three months later, Hunter's voice changed. Then followed a series of examinations and treatments over the next few years and, although Hunter's vocal condition continued to worsen, each time showed no cancer.
At the same time, Hunter's twenty-two year marriage (his second) was falling apart. (The author dodges the reasons for this, but he hints in one sentence that his extra-marital affairs were one of the main reasons.) In 1995, at a book store signing, he met Dragica (Dina) Dimitrijevic, a Serbian acting coach who was more than two decades his junior. Hunter fell in love. Six months later, he separated from his wife. Two days earlier he had agreed to have radiation treatments on his (still non-cancerous) vocal cords in order to improve his voice.
You have to understand the importance Evan Hunter placed on his voice. As a prolific and popular author, his book sales depended a great deal on his publicity tours -- interviews, public readings, and television and radio appearances -- all of which would be greatly curtailed if his voice condition worsened.
The book follows two threads: first, Hunter's eventual cancer diagnosis, removal of his larynx, and the consequences of that act; second, Hunter's relationship, eventual marriage to, and life with Dina. Tying both threads together is the turbulence involved with both. At times humorous, and at times self-pitying, Let's Talk is an honest look at the simultaneous forces of illness and love -- least as honest a look as Hunter is willing to tell us. A fast and interesting read, especially for those who have enjoyed either Hunter, McBain, or both.
It should be noted that Hunter's wife wrote about half the book, detailing the time from her point of view. She refused to have her name on the cover and title page, as Hunter explained in his dedication. Orion, the book's publisher, credited the book to "Evan Hunter, a.k.a. Ed McBain," presumably because the two names are not generally known to many readers. (I don't know how true this is, especially in Great Britain, but I do know that McBain is much known than Hunter -- something Hunter mentions several times in the book.)
Why this book was not published in the US remains a mystery to me.