WILL & I by Clay Byars


A Memoir
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A tragic accident gives birth to a writer.

Before the car crash that almost killed him, Narrative Magazine assistant editor Byars was a college student from a Southern family that included his identical twin brother, Will. This memoir of recovery against considerable odds traces the relationship between the brothers, their innate closeness, and what changed after the accident and what didn’t, but Will doesn’t figure nearly as prominently throughout as the title would seem to suggest. In much of the first half, the author seems to be trying to figure out just what is his story and how best to tell it. The crash in which he was a passenger threatened to kill him and initially seemed likely to paralyze him, and then he suffered post-surgical complications so severe that the doctors predicted he wouldn’t survive for more than one week. Byars beat the odds in terms of both survival and physical mobility, but he still faced a long road to what would never be all the way back. He had to relearn how to talk and to figure out how to get around on his own. And he was on his own a lot, partly by choice (“I only knew what I didn’t want to do: anything to do with stagnation. My parents seemed content with my doing nothing”) but also partly because others his age, particularly potential romantic partners, didn’t quite know how to deal with someone whose body had suffered so much. “My brain felt like the least damaged part of my body,” he writes. “It was painfully undamaged.” Despite occasional wishes that he had somehow forgotten who he had been or the extent of his predicament, his memoir is remarkably free of sentimentality or self-pity. He found both an outlet and a vocation in his writing, and he had to come to terms with the loss of those who had been prepared to lose him.

A stark, honest book that reads like a writer’s apprenticeship amid harrowing circumstances.

Pub Date: June 21st, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-374-29028-3
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2016


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