Books by Leonard Kriegel

Released: Jan. 15, 1998

A middle-age paraplegic's essays on disability and the male perspective. Being crippled, says Kriegel (Falling into Life, 1991, etc.), can cause a man to lose his drive, his sense of purpose, and thus his courage. Handicapped women, one supposes, might face the same difficulties, but Kriegel doesn't clarify why they redefine his manhood, why as a man he is more challenged than a woman would be. Kriegel, who lost the use of his legs after a childhood bout with polio, is eloquent on the uses of anger: He describes the moment when, as a teenager, he realized his disability was permanent, his crazed, enraged flailing with fists against a windowsill until his knuckles were scraped and bloodied. He writes lyrically about his dreams of beaches, where his crutches and wheelchair are virtually useless; the modern supermarket; and relating to women as a paraplegic—though he provides few details of this central aspect of manhood. He recognizes the power of memory as a repository not only of events but of desires. Even as he settles into his 60s, he finds he's subject to the pull of unfulfilled ambitions. Kriegel wisely rejects the campfire bonding rituals of the ``gurus of the New American Masculinity,'' as well as the victimization endemic to the politics of gender and that he associates with men's movements. In a fine, challenging piece on the god Hephaestus, an attempt is made to render disability universal: ``What haunts Hephaestus haunts every cripple.'' Though his limp makes him mortal and he's cuckolded by Aphrodite, he is all man. In Hephaestus, Kriegel discovers the tough-mindedness he needs to overcome the twin temptations of rage and mawkish self-pity—in short, the will to endure. While Kriegel acknowledges that ``even as a word `manhood' leaves us in a sweat,'' it is a ``need to stand as a man'' that he values: strength, independence—the very same characteristics, oddly, that women have come to associate with their own femininist ideals of womanhood. Read full book review >
FALLING INTO LIFE by Leonard Kriegel
Released: Jan. 15, 1990

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 >