Horizontal Woman: The Story of a Body in Exile

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9780395726686: Horizontal Woman: The Story of a Body in Exile
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In the mundane act of picking up her child, Suzanne Berger incurs a severe back injury that leaves her suddenly and dramatically disabled. Because the muscles for sitting are torn and using a wheelchair for any length of time is impossible, she finds herself literally horizontal. In this dazzling memoir, Berger charts her course from this almost completely horizontal existence to partial mobility and finally to tentative uprightness and walking. With vigor, insight, and black humor, Berger portrays the phantasmagoric universe caused by her unusual physical placement in the world. She captures the emotional vicissitudes of confinement and chronic pain, seismic changes in personal relationships, mind/body unity and disparity, and greatly modified parenthood in a series of mesmerizing stories about everything from blissful aquatherapy sessions in a rehabilitation hospital to raging tirades addressed to Mr. Rogers from the TV room floor. In the tradition of Lucy Grealy's Autobiography of a

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Review:

Poet Suzanne E. Berger's life was dramatically and horrifyingly changed when she bent to pick up her child and something at the base of her spine tore so out of joint that she collapsed "like a puppet unstrung." The problem was never clearly pinned down, but Berger was: she spent the next six years flat on her back until she was finally able to move and sit by herself. This is the anguished story of her plight, of the torments and conflicted feelings she bore, and of her concerns for her child and family. In this chronicle she successfully communicates the pain--physical and emotional--that she faced as a "horizonatal woman."

From Kirkus Reviews:

A woman with a temporary but grievous disability reveals with bitterness, insight, and humor what it is to be immobile and horizontal in a world of the mobile and vertical. This first book of nonfiction by Berger, an award-winning poet (These Rooms and Legacies, not reviewed), is filled with the vivid images one expects from a writer with a poet's eye. While in the prime of life she suffered a sudden, severe injury that left her unable to sit or stand for more than brief moments. In mostly short essays on disability, personal relationships, isolation, confinement, and recovery (the piece on aquatic therapy appeared in slightly different form in the ``Hers'' column of the New York Times Magazine), she tells of her success at making Christmas cookies on the kitchen floor, of a disastrous evening at a theater that could not or would not accommodate the lawn chair she planned to recline in, of her inability to attend a family funeral, of checking into a rehabilitation hospital that she believes may be her last hope. Although she touches on various aspects of her daily existence as a disempowered woman, the central theme is her struggle to be a good mother to the daughter who was only a toddler when disaster struck. She shares her fears about not being able to protect her child from harm, her feelings when she is left behind on father-daughter outings, her joy at finally being able to take her daughter on a simple shopping trip. In the final chapters, ten years have passed and Berger is once again vertical, but it is clear that the horizontal woman she was is forever a part of her persona. Although Berger is a skilled writer, her overuse of italics for emphasis suggests that she doubts her own ability to communicate adequately. She should have more faith: This is a moving testament. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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