FLYING SOLO by Leonard Kriegel


Reimagining Manhood, Courage, and Loss
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 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.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1998
ISBN: 0-8070-7230-3
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Beacon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1997