Tuberculosis. A terrifying word, as terrifying then as cancer is now. It meant entering a sanatorium for treatment, leaving her family, her children. And what if she did not recover? Hardly the basis for comedy, one would suppose. And one would be wrong. Betty MacDonald always had the ability to face up to adversity -- and heaven knows she had enough in her life -- so after the initial shock had passed, she proceeded to laugh at her illness, the other patients, the nurses, the doctors, and -- chiefly -- herself. Humor was her greatest medicine, right up to the day she left the sanatorium, cured. Of course she had her bad moments when despair and tragedy underlying what she saw and heard refused to be pushed into the background, but she had the grit and wit to rise above it. The result is a lively, cheerful and most funny book. In fact, it's a tonic.
You know how sometimes friendship blossoms in the first few moments of meeting? Something clicked, we say. Well, that's what discovering Betty MacDonald was like for me: I happened to read a couple of pages of one of her books and click; knew right away that here was a vivacious writer whose friendly, funny, and fiery company I was really going to enjoy. Although MacDonald's first and most popular book, The Egg and I, has remained in print since its original publication, her three other volumes have been unavailable for decades. The Plague and I recounts MacDonald's experiences in a Seattle sanitarium, where the author spent almost a year (1938-39) battling tuberculosis. The White Plague was no laughing matter, but MacDonald nonetheless makes a sprightly tale of her brush with something deadly. Anybody Can Do Anything is a high-spirited, hilarious celebration of how the warmth and loyalty and laughter of a big family brightened their weathering of The Great Depression. In Onions in the Stew, MacDonald is in unbuttonedly frolicsome form as she describes how, with husband and daughters, she set to work making a life on a rough-and-tumble island in Puget Sound, a ferry-ride from Seattle.