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A Memoir of Becoming Whole

by Steve Fiffer

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-85418-X
Publisher: Free Press

In these revealing memoirs, reconstructed some 30 years after the accident that changed his life, Fiffer (co-author, with Morris Dees, of Hate on Trial: The Case Against America’s Most Dangerous Neo-Nazi, 1993, etc.) shows what it is like to be different and recounts his long struggle to accept that difference and become whole. In 1967, a wrestling fall fractured a vertebra in the high school senior’s neck, leaving him a helpless quadriplegic. Blessed with a devoted father with both the means and the influence to get him the best care then available, Fiffer also had good luck on his side: contrary to his doctors’ predictions, feeling and control gradually returned to some of his body. After months of physical therapy, he was able to begin his freshman year at Yale in 1968, no longer in a wheelchair but on crutches. Fiffer’s depiction of himself during these years is not especially flattering—he seems as shallow and self-obsessed as your average adolescent. Again, he is fortunate in having people around to set him right: a mother to jolt him out of unnecessary dependence and smart-alecky behavior, a rehab colleague to put his injuries in perspective, a fitness expert to push him past the physical limits he had begun to settle for. A persistent theme is his longing for and fears about sexual love. Happiness in this department is a long time coming, and Fiffer’s tales of one-night stands and unfulfilled affairs are poignant. In telling one reluctant young woman, “You may not be getting a dollar bill, but you’d be getting three quarters, two dimes, and a nickel,” he both recognizes his difference and asserts his wholeness. Happily, he is now married to a fellow writer and editor, a union that has produced books (Family: American Writers Remember Their Own, 1996, etc.) as well as children. A generally satisfying but hardly spellbinding example of the how-I-overcame-my-handicap genre.