A. Manette Ansay, the author of such well-received novels as Midnight Champagne and River Angel, didn't set out to be a writer, but a concert pianist. In this affecting memoir, she tells what happened to change her course.
In early adulthood, having spent years practicing at the keyboard, Ansay was felled by a mysterious illness that robbed her of motor control--and, soon, her ability to walk. Ailments of unknown origin weren't uncommon among her fellow students, she writes, for musical training is far more punishing physically than nonmusicians might imagine, and moments of respite are rare--reason enough to take ill. Even so, this malady stumped her doctors and drove her into a doubting self-examination through which she concluded that her illness was a test of faith devised by a stern but not unloving God; "just because you can't find the reason doesn't mean it isn't there." The loss of her physical strength and musical calling were tough tests, she writes, but life would toss tougher ones her way over the years, and to gauge by this memoir she has met them well. Ansay touches on matters of courage, faith, and bewilderment before arriving at a nicely optimistic conclusion. For, she writes, despite it all, despite having been confined to a wheelchair for nearly half her life, the good has far outweighed the bad, a happy instance of "that precarious balance that drives us to value what we have, to cling to the world as we do."
Gracefully written and full of small epiphanies, Limbo will prove a pleasure for Ansay's many loyal readers, and for those new to her work. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
In this gorgeous memoir, Ansay (Vinegar Hill; Midnight Champagne) recounts how, at the age of 19, an undiagnosed muscle disorder cut short her promising career as a concert pianist. Describing memory as "the switch on the wall. The pull chain on the lamp," Ansay beautifully illuminates selected details of her Catholic childhood, her struggles with religious faith and her growing realization that her illness is a permanent one. In her rural community, where "illness and shame still go hand-in-hand," Ansay's family is unsympathetic to undefined injuries. Head colds call for "hot whiskey punch with lemon and sugar," and toothaches are cured by chewing on the other side of one's mouth. In deference to her musical ambitions and religious upbringing, Ansay tries to transcend her pain, suffering through piano lessons, recitals and conservatory training. But she never lets this memoir devolve into one of those stories about "crippled children with heroic personalities." In fact, she pokes fun at such narratives: "Thanks to the power of faith... the family rallies around the child, discovering in the process that instead of a tragedy, this child is the greatest blessing of their lives." Instead, Ansay reveals the painful indignity of having a debilitating physical condition that is immediately visible: "It's right there, out in the open, where anyone might choose to poke at it, probe it, satisfy their grim curiosity." (Oct. 16)Forecast: Ansay's novel Vinegar Hill was an Oprah-anointed bestseller; that and a generous marketing campaign including advertising in the New York Times Book Review, as well as a 15-city NPR campaign will give this memoir well-deserved prominence.
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