Kriegel (Literature/CCNY; Quitting Time, 1982, etc.), crippled by polio at summer camp in 1944, wrestles with what it means to be "condemned to adulthood"—in 14 vengeful essays previously published in Partisan Review, The Nation, etc. "Until I met up with my virus, I was a monotonously average eleven-year-old boy," writes the Bronx-raised author. "By the time I returned from the upstate hospital, at the age of thirteen, the nerves in my legs were dead and the muscles withered and atrophied into sticks of flesh and bone." The title of both the book and the first essay refers to the boyhood experience of being taught how to fall from crutches, and then get up. Although at first frightening, falling, Kriegel explains, "became a way of celebrating what I had lost." Insisting on confronting us with his vantage point as a "crutch walker," the author considers questions of existence, faith, imagination, and the self in the context of America. Writing, he admits, serves for him the desire "to alter the truth of my life, a truth I still find unbearable." In "Taking It," Kriegel argues that "it was utlimately the need to prove myself an American man, tough, resilient, independent, and able to take it, that pulled me through my war with the virus." In an "Homage" to boxer Barney Ross, Kriegel tells how fantasies about fighting gave "a sense of myself as still possessing the very power whose absence threatened to destroy me even as I dreamed." Ranging over such subjects as cripples in literature, the lost innocence of WW II's "war-obsessed generation of boys," and tackling San Francisco and Paris in a wheelchair, these essays finally present the cripple as heroic survivor in an unheroic age. Unforgettable is the paralyzed boy, "every bone ripped with bedsores," refusing to talk. Somewhat one-note, yet powerful, autobiographical meditations that strip euphemism from the disquieting facts of coming to terms with disease.
Read full book review >