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Limbo: A Memoir Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 2, 2001

4.2 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1st edition (October 2, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688172865
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688172862
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,610,672 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 7, 2006
Format: Paperback
In "Limbo," a memoir by A. Manette Ansay, the author remembers growing up in the sixties and seventies, for the most part, with fondness. Although Ann's traditional Catholic upbringing gave her nightmares on more than one occasion, the strict rules and routines that governed her life made her feel secure. When her parents took her to Wisconsin, she got to know her large extended family, which included sixty-seven cousins. As a youngster, Ann enjoyed physical activity of any sort. She loved to run, jump, and wrestle, and she even did sit-ups and push-ups when she was in elementary school.

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.
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Format: Paperback
There are those who easily turn to their religion to find comfort in the midst of nearly any difficulty. Then there are those who REFUSE to do so and who are able to find their way through the pain anyway.

Ansay falls into the latter group (and I want to be clear here,...I'm not saying one viewpoint is better than the other, only pointing out the facts).

She is quite honest about her unwillingness (or inability) to make that choice for herself. She is faced with a mysterious illness and no guarantee of recovery. She may be in a wheelchair all her life. She is young.

THe result? A book about how she comes to grips with all of this WITHOUT insisting on finding "meaning" or a sense that she was destined for this or that there is some deeper significance or spiritual pattern in her illness.

If you know someone in a similar circumstance, someone for whom religion is not an easy comfort and who wonders how others have coped, this would be a perfect choice. It is also worth reading by just about anyone who wonders "What if?" or "How would I handle this?". Honest, detailed and unflinching.
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Format: Hardcover
A. Manette Ansay has been a favorite of mine since her first published novel "Vinegar Hill"; she's one of those authors that you buy in hardcover because you can't wait for the paperback. Her most recent novel "Midnight Champagne" was so good that it begs to be savored over and over again.
So when I saw that she had written her memoir I was anxious to read about this young writer that I so admire. Now that I have read it I have even MORE for which to admire her. The descriptions of her phisical dibilitation are heart breaking...but at the same time her spirit is uplifting; her talent is daunting.
I especially appreciate her description of losing her Catholic faith. I went through the same gamut of emotions - panic and peace - when I lost mine.
Everything she writes strikes true. I will be the first in line for her next work.
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Format: Hardcover
Since writing my own memoir, BABY CATCHER: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife (Scribner 2002), I have been studying the style of other memorists. I found Ansay's prose lyrical, mesmerizing, and almost poetic throughout this beautiful book. To be able to write about her losses as a result of a still-mysterious illness similar to MS, with calmness and lack of hyperbole, is admirable and enviable. From the very beginning you know this story doesn't have a happy outcome, but at no time did I feel depressed. On some level, I rejoiced for this author, for her own successes and insight and hope and the joy in small gains, small triumphs over her difficulties. Limbo is a love story, an admirable one. I wish this author lived next door to me. I would sit at her feet in awe and bake her cookies and bread at every opportunity. May she continue to write and write and write.
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Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book, for the most part. Ansay is best when she addresses her disease. This is an atypical memoir, as most memoirs concerning diseases have the following pattern: I was healthy; I became ill with a specific disease (or addicted, alcoholic, etc.); I recovered. Ansay is courageous in showing us a less "hopeful" situation. To this day, she does not have a specific diagnosis of her affliction, and not only has she not recovered, she is realistic in revealing that she may never recover. She writes about what her day-to-day life is like, and that it may never change. She also honestly writes about peoples' different reactions to her in a wheelchair; many had the gall to ask what was wrong, and others were wondering what she must have done "wrong" in a past life "to deserve this"! No one would just let her have the disease, plain and simple, and go on with her life. She shows that she is more than her disease; she is a sensitive, open writer. As other critics have noted (Sontag, etc), for some reason, our society demands that illness must have meaning. Ansay is explaining, in this memoir, that it just is what it is.
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