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Limbo: A Memoir Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 2, 2001
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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.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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But that is MY story and now I am supposed to "forgive and forget". No one from my husband's family attended our wedding due to a homily preached a week before our wedding by the local Catholic priest in Port Washington. The cost to my parents for the no-shows was over $300.00. Like Manette, the pain lives on and needs to be talked about in order to be exorcised. Manette's father had become a fine, ethical real estate broker and he helped us purchase our second home in Belgium, WI. My daughter and I have read most of Manette's work and seen the TV film adaptation. It has helped us see kind of high drama written from a place of pain and hopefully, healing. It took close to 30 years for me to come to that place. Now, 48 years since the trauma occurred, I am in a happy place. I pray that for Manette, too!
This memoir gives up plenty of discussion of Ansay's childhood, growing up in an austere, Catholic community in Wisconsin. Her childhood was one in which people were expected to find all solace in religion. Any achievement or success was seen as getting ahead of oneself. Each of these stories, of childhood and illness, would be interesting in and of itself. Together they produce a fascinating memoir. Ansay's retelling of her story is sensitive and reflective. She has much to offer anyone dealing with disease and its attendant grief.
One of the great loves of Ann's life was music. She took piano lessons for years and practiced for hours each day. She became so proficient that she was eventually admitted to the prestigious Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. Tragically, her promising musical career was cut short when physical symptoms that she had been battling for years suddenly grew worse. She suffered from intense pain in her arms and legs, and the doctors she consulted could not agree on a diagnosis. She tried cortisone shots, anti-inflammatory drugs, splints, braces, surgery, hypnosis, and many other treatments. Nothing cured her, although there were times when she could walk under her own power for short distances. However, because of the pain in her arms, Ann knew that she had to give up her dream of becoming a concert pianist. After much soul searching, she eventually turned to writing.
"Limbo" is an episodic memoir that goes back and forth in time. The shifts are sometimes too sudden and they give the book a choppy feel. In addition, it is a bit confusing when Ansay uses the present tense to describe events long past. However, her descriptive writing is vivid, lyrical, and evocative. She uses creative imagery to depict the people she has known and the experiences that have shaped her life. The author includes in her memoir engrossing anecdotes about a wide variety of topics, including her troubled Grandmother Ansay, the way that Chaim Potok's novel, "The Chosen" changed her view of the world, her ambivalence about religion, and her childhood worries and escapades.
The book is most affecting when Ann talks about her illness and how it transformed her. She attended and completed college, even though she was unable to take notes or written exams. Strangers stared and pointed at her in her wheelchair or made rude comments about her disability, such as, "You've got it easy--the rest of us have to walk." However, the illness brought Ann closer to her parents, especially her mother, who was an invaluable asset to her sick daughter. In 1986, Ann's mother took her on a seven-hour drive to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota every six weeks for treatments.
Today, Ansay is a successful writer, and she has come to terms with her condition. She says, "It's a good life, made up of the people I love, the novels I've written and those I plan to write . . . ." Her persistence, determination, and resilience are inspiring, and I recommend "Limbo" for those who are interested in a true story of courage and grace under pressure.
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