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Rerun: Hamer on Price

Saturday Review: “The Tao of Disability” by Mike Hamer in NCLR Vol 2. Iss. 2. (1995)

A review of A Whole New Life by Reynolds Price (1994)

Over the summer, we’re sharing some reruns of older book reviews.

“Disability, whenever it comes, is always a mystery. It is often a tragic surprise, too, that comes as swiftly as a summer squall on eastern North Carolina waters. When it comes, it challenges the disabled individual to get beyond the who, what, when, where, and, especially, the why – to the now what?
Reynolds Price’s A Whole New Life makes a valuable contribution toward unraveling the mystery of the now what? of disability.” writes Hamer at the beginning of the review, that is as much as review of his own outlook as a quadriplegic as it is on Price’s book.

“The first bouts with pressure sores had cured me of the overachiever syndrome pretty quickly. Although you can read, watch films, and visit when you’re down, you can get pretty restless when you’re stuck in bed for 24 hours a day, for several weeks on end, and you can’t get much work done. I was in one of these negative states of mind early last summer when a friend sent me a copy of Reynolds Price’s A
Whole New Life. I knew Price had been disabled longer than I, so I was curious to see what he had to offer in the realm of “tricks for coping.” I soon learned that he dealt with his disability as most do: as
best he could. I also learned that I was in the presence of a master storyteller. In his account, Price tells of being diagnosed with a spinal cancer, of being treated with radiation therapy, of becoming a paraplegic, and of dealing with chronic pain as a result of the surgeries on his spinal column.”

“What impressed me most about Price’s account was something he didn’t talk about much. Through all his trauma and pain, the body of work he has produced has been nothing short of phenomenal: in the 10 years since the discovery of his spinal cancer, he has published 13 works including novels, short stories, plays, poems, and nonfiction – and he won the National Book Critic’s Circle Award for Kate Vaiden.

“Price has a basic message for his reader: mourn the person you were before your illness or accident,
mourn the energy that passed through those wonderful legs, then get on with and create a new life for yourself. No one else can do that for you.”

“…I remembered that the basic principles of mysticism had inspired people for millennia; could they work for me in this situation? The basic concepts of mysticism, as I understand it, are the via positivo, via negativa, via creativa, and via tramformativa. These concepts go something like this: Via positiva means that life is good, so celebrate it. Via negativa means that life has pain, so accept that. Via creativa means that we should express our joy and pain in creative ways, and the via transformotiva is the state of being at one with life in all its aspects, the good and bad, joy and pain.”

“So it remains the job of the rest of us disabled persons to tell our stories, in whatever way we can, so that
we can transform the via positiva and via negativa parts of our lives and flow with that river that winds through these flatlands of the east. And we can reveal a part of that mystery of disability to each other and to the many more not-yet-disabled.”

Read the rest of the review here and order the 1995 issue for your collection.