Picks and Pans Review: Time on Fire: My Comedy of Terrors

updated 02/26/1996 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/26/1996 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Evan Handler

Most people write memoirs about their health battles to inspire others. But this book is, in part, a gleeful payback for Handler's experiences at the hands of emotionally detached cancer specialists at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Center in New York City. Stricken with acute leukemia at the age of 24, Handler, an actor who has appeared in seven Broadway productions (including Brighton Beach Memoirs, Six Degrees of Separation and I Hate Hamlet), spent the next two years battling the disease, which he says is now in remission.

Throughout the ordeal, he endured the tough-love ministrations of the Sloan-Kettering doctors whom he chastises for their failure to explain procedures and for usually regarding his questions about treatment as unwelcome interference.

Time on Fire has its origins in a one-man, Off-Broadway play Handler performed to great acclaim in 1993. Here he writes in honest detail about religion and his relationships with his girlfriend and members of his family. At times his ordeal takes on the tone of a Woody Allen movie parody: "In addition to my hypnotherapy, my death therapy, my family therapy, my personal therapy and my psychic, I was usually working with any number of nutritionists, astrologists, massage and aroma therapists, as well as working on my own to come up with any insights that might, if not lead to an actual advantage, give me the perception of having one in my fight."

Handler is now back working after a crucial bone-marrow transplant at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. While he is keenly aware that he would never have survived without the physicians who contributed so much to his recovery, he is especially grateful to those who raised the money to help pay for his costly treatment and who generously donated blood. "I still see my life, and the fact that I'm alive, as a kind of crazy community project," he writes. "I like to be around so that those people who were there to help me out can see their work. Their blood literally flows in my veins. I have my life because other people pumped some of theirs into me." (Little, Brown, $21.95)

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