In Will to Survive, readers travel from Toronto, Canada, to Terni, Italy, as the protagonist, Lily, takes a long journey, in terms both of distance and psychology. The book, possibly a thinly veiled memoir (the author labels it a novella, but she shares the character’s first name and much of her history), focuses on two main events: the months of intense physical pain of unclear origin that Lily endures; and her return to her birthplace in Italy after she resolves her medical issues, to confront memories of an abusive childhood that made her feel unprotected and unloved.
Flashbacks of Lily’s dysfunctional childhood dispersed throughout the book offer glimpses of poignancy. And some of the author’s descriptions of Italy are well written. Unfortunately, the first third of the book suffers from stylistic issues as points of view ping-pong from Lily’s to her husband’s to an omniscient author’s and back again. This makes it challenging to identify with any one thought or feeling in what should be an emotion-packed section of the book.
Furthermore, Lily’s relationship with her husband Mitch never feels authentic, and her medical woes seem unrealistic: the source of the pain is never fully explained, though it appears to be an easily diagnosable ruptured appendix, and for unknown reasons she’s left untreated for months on end. The author also goes on odd tangents. At one point, when Lily loses consciousness, the author fails to build on that momentum, digressing instead into the character’s yoga practices.
Will to Survive becomes more interesting as it follows Lily’s personal quest in Italy, but it’s tough plowing through the first part of the book. With its shallow writing, gyrating viewpoints and medically questionable events, this section is likely to deter readers from finishing the book.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.