A mentally disabled man feistily perseveres in this wry, heartwarming memoir.
Born with cerebral palsy after he was deprived of oxygen during a troubled delivery, the author’s brother “Wendy” Jacobson suffered partial paralysis and permanent mental retardation. (To top it off, he developed epilepsy in his teens.) Rejecting doctors’ advice to institutionalize him, his parents raised him as normally as possible, and he grew into a man of limited intellect, halting speech, spastic gait and expansive soul. Writing with a limpid prose style and a clear-eyed empathy, Jacobson pens an evocative portrait of his brother and the blessings and burdens of his existence. Now in his 70s, a grizzled coot with the mind of a child, Wendy is often stubborn and exasperating (especially on matters of personal hygiene) and obsessive about pestering people on the phone. But he also has an open, welcoming attitude toward others and himself—“good-lookin’ man like me” is his cheerfully ironic characterization of his own off-beat looks—a stern work ethic and an exuberant, garrulous charm that makes friends of everyone he meets. Jacobson is frank about Wendy’s limitations, which are severe and at times heartbreaking, but he also shows us the meaning and satisfaction his brother draws from simple pleasures. Wendy’s triumphs are as inspiring as they are commonplace—in a miracle of patient resolve, his father manages to teach him to ride a bike even though he can barely walk—and the impact of his life on those around him significant. Jacobson’s account of Wendy’s long, tender relationship with a woman even more handicapped than himself is especially moving. The author draws homespun morals from his brother’s struggles, but they are hardly needed; there’s plenty of uplift just watching Wendy play the difficult hand he was dealt with gusto.
A luminous portrait of a life that transcends constraints.