Talk Before Sleep

What’s it about?

Ann and Ruth, women in their mid-forties, are unlikely friends. Ann is conservative, doubtful of herself, afraid to take chances. Ruth is a wild woman in the best sense of the word, an artist who speaks her mind and goes where her heart leads her. When Ruth is diagnosed with breast cancer, her disparate group of friends gather around her to care for her in her last days. This is a book that will make you cry, but it will also make you laugh. It sounds the alarm about breast cancer, but mostly is a testimonial to the power and joy of female friendship. Inspired by this book, Oprah did a show on breast cancer, and one segment was of her getting a mammogram. I was on the show with women who had terminal diagnoses, and was so moved by their candor and strength.

My favorite story about this book is that one woman stayed up late into the night to finish reading it. At three am, she got into her car in her jammies and drove to her best friend’s house, rang the doorbell, handed her the book, and said, “Here. You have to read this.” The most poignant story I’ve heard was that one woman who died of breast cancer asked to be buried with this book.

What was the inspiration?

Talk Before Sleep book cover
Random House – 1994

I lost a very good friend to breast cancer. And although I never intended to write about the experience, I found I needed to do something with all the feelings I had while she was dying and afterward. How could there have been so much laughter when someone was dying? How could a woman who was losing everything never lose the generosity she had to give to others? The book is very much fictionalized, but the emotions are true. I learned how important good female friends are. I learned the value of respecting differences in people. I learned how, even if you are dying, you can still remain yourself. How, in fact, dying can make you your truest yourself. In that ultimate act of claiming yourself, there is great beauty and solace and joy.


“I had never had a friend like Ruth. I liked the immediate and easy intimacy that we shared, the way we seemed to see so many things alike. I thought about how good it was to know I’d finally found a friend I would have for the rest of my life. We’d already decided that when our husbands kicked, we’d open a nursing home for hip women. “No rocking chairs,” Ruth had said. “No fucking bingo.”

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