Sunday, April 18, 2010

Review of a Memoir

This memoir, One More Theory About Happiness by Paul Guest, was one that I really wanted to read and yet dreaded reading. I knew he was wheelchair bound; the memoir might be difficult or it could be incredibly upbeat. Actually it is down to earth, factual, neither terribly sad nor too optimistic. Guest wrote his story as it has happened so far without mincing words or wanting pity.

He was a bright 12 year old in a gifted class when a ride on someone else's bicycle turned into a life changing event. He discovered as the bike picked up speed going downhill that it had no brakes. He hit a drainage ditch and was thrown across the road where he landed awkwardly. As he lay there aware that something awful had just happened, a couple men from the neighborhood insisted on picking him up. When his head flopped to the side, they realized that had been a big mistake. Guest will never know if that mistake did more damage, but he had known before they did it that he couldn't feel anything below his neck.

Since that day, Guest has been a quadriplegic, and will remain so. He writes of all the degrading humilitations he has to endure since he can't do anything for himself, and he describes those things almost clinically. After all, what else can he do? This is fact, it is his reality. He writes of his discomfort when people gush over him, of the time a man robbed him as he sat helplessly in his wheelchair in an elevator, of embarrassments, and of his longing for normal love and marriage with a girl.

He writes of the sacrifices his parents have made for him and their acceptance of that need as well as their loving care. And then finally of his discovery that he had talent for writing. He began with poetry and at this point has written five books.

I haven't read his other books, but the tone and style of this memoir are right on. He definitely has talent. Having said that, I feel he has erased almost all emotion from this work for fear that people will pity him. Well, I can't help feeling badly for him, no matter whether he shows emotion or not. He has been dealt a bum hand and I don't know if I would have the strength to face it like he does, but I don't pity him, mainly because he is determined to live as good a life as he can.

There is no everything-works-out happy ending for Paul Guest, but he is engaged and madly in love. He still lives with pain and the difficulty of living everyday life, but he has found love. I'm glad I read his book.

I received this book from Ecco, a HarperCollins imprint, through GoodReads.

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