Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Colorado author and journalist Cathie Beck recently met with a lunch group I organize of local women authors, editors, and other talented literary types. Her discussion involved how she promoted her self-published memoir, Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship, so effectively online—and followed that up with immediate outreach to agents and publishers—that the book quickly got the attention of a top agent and was sold to a major house.

Intrigued by Cathie’s story, I bought a signed copy of Cheap Cabernet. Usually I add new titles to my growing pile of books to read, but the glimpse I’d gotten of Cathie’s complex history and comments shared by others in the group who’d read her book prompted me to dive right in. I’m so glad I did.

Cathie insists she comes from the wrong side of the tracks in every possible sense. Her brief but highly memorable stories of her parents’ dysfunctional ways and their impact on every member of their family bring to mind the searing images of Mary Karr’s childhood memoir, The Liars’ Club. Both of these petite authors armed themselves early on with quick wit and a tendency to swear a blue streak when riled. And both write as though their survival depends on it. Considering their incredibly painful upbringings and the challenges they’ve faced through the years, that may very well be the case.

While Cheap Cabernet does indeed celebrate a unique friendship, it also illuminates singular lives in which neglect, desperation, and despair are somehow overcome by the dogged determination, unapologetic moxie, and wild laughter that can make life worth living…even (or especially) when it becomes too brutal to bear.

When Cathie meets Boulder artist and Bronx native Denise Katz, both their lives are at crossroads and the need to share their separate journeys with someone as unique and outgoing and borderline lawless as the other compel them to become fast friends. Various forms of mania ensue, from unplanned road trips and run-ins to a Jamaican vacation gone very wrong and a side trip to Cuba that almost proves disastrous. Denise’s multiple sclerosis is on such an unpredictable course that Cathie finds herself on the kind of emotional rollercoaster ride she thought—after a lifetime of poverty, abandonment, and emotional battles—she’d finally left behind.

But the physical and mental toll of an illness with debilitating symptoms that a decade ago lacked mitigating treatments eventually would take its toll. Somehow both women come to terms, in their own unique ways, with the myriad demands of their complicated lives and reconcile themselves to their individual, yet completely intertwined fates.

How Cathie Beck captured all that, and much more, in one book is nothing short of remarkable. How she fought to not only get Cheap Cabernet in print but to get it some of the attention it so deserves is another amazing story altogether.

“No one should have to face multiple sclerosis alone,” Cathie notes in an afterword that includes details, resources, and a note regarding the fact that a portion of all proceeds from sales of Cheap Cabernet go directly to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, “including the family members and loved ones of someone who has been diagnosed with MS.” Considering Cathie’s difficult past, Denise’s cruel “treatment” when her illness led to severe depression, and Cathie’s continuing struggles with rheumatoid arthritis and related insurance and medical nightmares, Cheap Cabernet stands as a testament to the fact that no one should have to face any serious illness alone.

While Cathie knocked herself out to help a friend in need and admits she got beat up a bit along the way, she also continues to marvel that miracles do happen, that “people come into our lives, and sometimes, if we’re terribly lucky, we get the chance to love them.”