Gone are the ethereal martyrs dying with smiles on their faces as they meet God. Death, for blessed heretics like Rakoff and Hitchens, is neither graceful nor dignified. They don’t fear it—since there’s nothing afterward, there’s no reason to be afraid—but they resent it. And that both memoirs drip with resentment only makes them more powerful, resentment being one of those gloriously facile emotions that make us humans and not saints.
Hitchens and Rakoff transform death into something prosaic, focusing on their most earthly assets: their bodies. Without the promise of an afterlife, they treat death with the same exhausted disdain as they would any of life’s other hassles. Their memoirs are tactile as they describe the physical impact of cancer, shudder-inducing as they recount the quotidian losses of minor daily dignities, a little bit gross as they describe some of the messier side effects of treatment, and blessedly human as they whine and gripe about the often hilarious, often gut-punching inconvenience of meeting one’s demise.