Denali is the story of a life-long relationship between the author, Ben Moon, and his adopted dog. It deals with Moon's battle with cancer and recovery, and is an inspiring and, at times, a challenging read.
Few people would be as adventurous and fit as Moon; he is a surfer, mountain climber and photographer of others engaged in demanding outdoor pursuits. It's always a pleasure to learn about a totally different way of life, and Moon's adventurous commitment to outdoor activities, while living in his vehicle - the dirtbag life' - will be of as much interest to readers a less athletic persuasion as to other climbers and surfers.
When signs of obvious illness become apparent, Moon takes a long time to seek medical help, by which time his cancer is advanced. At only 29, he 'comes face-to-face with..mortality' as he is diagnosed with stage III colorectal cancer. He, like many others, had believed that bowel cancer only affects older people. Throughout his battle with the disease and the adjustments to life with a colostomy bag, Moon's constant companion is the rescue dog who gives the book its title. "Through all the turmoil and confusion of this prolonged battle, there was one friend who never wavered, and always had my back." Their relationship is described in great detail and without any glib sentimentality. The diagnosis of cancer, and the disease's physical and mental toll, are graphically described by the author, and reading some of the details is quite challenging. Moon's book definitely provides a much greater understanding of the experience of cancer patients and survivors. The lack of psychological support for the author from a medical system that is brilliant at fighting the physical aspects of the disease is quite stark, and he details his attempts to deal with this deficiency. As an American, Moon faces a financial burden that comes alongside the medical care. Australian readers may well be reminded of the value of our different system.
Denali has a long life with Moon, but a long life for a dog ends in its teens. Moon writes openly of the grief that the loss of his companion caused, and of the way that many people don't appreciate the depth of this emotion. "...(W)hen a pet passes on, most can't comprehend or empathise with the time it takes to adjust to this new normal, the reality of the emptiness." Any reader who has experienced grief at the death of a dog will find Moon's honest exploration of his feelings refreshing.
Overall, Denali is an intriguing book, probing the mystery of our ability to love, and to take comfort from, a different species. It is also a striking story of struggle and survival. Moon is a skilled writer, and this book deserves a wide readership.
- Penelope Cottier writes poetry as PS Cottier.
- Denali, by Ben Moon. Simon & Schuster. $27.99.