Reynolds Price has long been one of America's most acclaimed and accomplished men of letters -- the author of novels, stories, poems, essays, plays, and a memoir. In A Whole New Life, however, he steps from behind that roster of achievements to present us with a more personal story, a narrative as intimate and compelling as any work of the imagination.
In 1984, a large cancer was discovered in his spinal cord ("The tumor was pencil-thick and gray-colored, ten inches long from my neck-hair downward"). Here, for the first time, Price recounts without self-pity what became a long struggle to withstand and recover from this appalling, if all too common, affliction (one American in three will experience some from of cancer). He charts the first puzzling symptoms; the urgent surgery that fails to remove the growth and the radiation that temporarily arrests it (but hurries his loss of control of his lower body); the occasionally comic trials of rehab; the steady rise of severe pain and reliance on drugs; two further radical surgeries; the sustaining force of a certain religious vision; an eventual discovery of help from biofeedback and hypnosis; and the miraculous return of his powers as a writer in a new, active life.
Beyond the particulars of pain and mortal illness, larger concerns surface here -- a determination to get on with the human interaction that is so much a part of this writer's much-loved work, the gratitude he feels toward kin and friends and some (though by no means all) doctors, the return to his prolific work, and the "now appalling, now astonishing grace of God."
A Whole New Life offers more than the portrait of one brave person in tribulation; it offers honest insight, realistic encouragement and inspiration to others who suffer the bafflement of catastrophic illness or who know someone who does or will.
Novelist and poet Reynolds Price ( A Long and Happy Life ) here manages to turn his battle with spine cancer into a tough, sometimes funny, always moving and optimistic tale. His writing is eloquent enough to encompass his worst anguish; but his intellectual rigor, combined with religious convictions that never desert him, precludes self pity. Price now cheerfully calls himself "a certified gimp, in working order." He was first diagnosed in 1984 and during the next four years had surgery, suffered continual and severe pain and became permanently confined to a wheelchair: "My whole body felt caught in the threads of a giant hot screw and bolted inward to the point of screaming." He was heavily drugged and unable to function as either a writer or a friend. In 1987, he began treatment with hypnotist Patrick Logue of Duke University's psychiatric department with remarkable results: "I instantly knew I was free in a way I'd never felt before in my life, surely not for a moment of the past three years." Price learned from Logue to manage his pain without drugs and is writing again: fiction, essays, movie and TV scripts and the affecting poems here. His book is for all who suffer. Through it, with utter simplicity, threads a testament to the power of prayer, which Price calls "the first strong prop beneath my own collapse." He concludes "I've lead a mainly happy life," and, more astonishingly, "I know that this new life is better for me." What higher praise is there than to say we believe him?
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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April 08, 2000
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