I can no longer claim that I don’t love nonfiction because I absolutely love this book. Diane Ackerman’s account of her writer-husband’s stroke and subsequent aphasia is illuminating and emotive without being self-pitying or pedantic. I admit that I love this book mostly because I felt personally connected to their situation. Sweet Man didn’t struggle with aphasia after his battle with the Neurological Gods, but he’s had his own troubles. I wish I were able to write something this beautiful and insightful about our experiences. Then again, Ackerman gave herself five years between the event itself and the written book, so maybe her clarity is a matter of hindsight combined with writerly brilliance.
I could have excerpted this entire book, but I won’t. Instead, here’s one gem that I felt reverberate inside me:
A stroke survived, by definition, won’t be the last emergency. How do you get over waiting for the other shoe to drop?
I appreciated the author’s answer to this question, as well as her acknowledgement that acceptance is an ongoing process. A few pages later, she writes:
Life can survive in the constant shadow of illness, and even rise to moments of rampant joy, but the shadow remains, and one has to make space for it. . . . I am in a phase of life with responsibilities I could not have imagined during my boy-crazy high school years in the heart of Pennsylvania. . . . Like the teen years, this is also a passing phase.
I thought I would find the aphasic terms of endearment her husband invented for her to be the most charming part of this book– and they are charming (Pleiades of Starship Mine, O Parakeet of the Lissome Star, Soft Little Hummingbird Who Waits for Me)– but this book contains so much more than mere charm. It’s a message of hope, endurance, plasticity, and above all else, love– in more than one hundred ways.