As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

February 14, 2011

LIMBO by A. Manette Ansay, 2002

Limbo: A MemoirFrom childhood, acclaimed novelist A. Manette Ansay trained to become a concert pianist. But when she was nineteen, a mysterious muscle disorder forced her to give up the piano, and by twenty-one, she couldn't grip a pen or walk across a room. She entered a world of limbo, one in which no one could explain what was happening to her or predict what the future would hold. At twenty-three, beginning a whole new life in a motorized wheelchair, Ansay made a New Year's resolution to start writing fiction, rediscovering the sense of passion and purpose she thought she had lost for good. Thirteen years later, still without a firm diagnosis or prognosis, Ansay reflects on the ways in which the unraveling of one life can plant the seeds of another, and considers how her own physical limbo has challenged—in ways not necessarily bad—her most fundamental assumptions about life and faith. Luminously written, Limbo is a brilliant and moving testimony to the resilience of the human spirit. (Amazon product description)

Review by Katie Langston

I have something of a love-hate relationship with memoirs.  I love to read them, because a well-written, well-crafted narrative of someone's personal journey can be a deeply intimate experience that is transformative somehow -- just like any good literature.  On the other hand, bad memoir has a way of devolving into self-pity or self-aggrandizement in a way that bad fiction just doesn't.

Fortunately, this lyrical memoir avoids those traps on its way to exploring issues of faith, family, art, and illness.

That is not to say that everything is rosy.  Pain is a prominent theme in Limbo.  The author, A. Manette Ansay, describes her transformation from a devout Catholic and budding concert pianist to an atheist and fiction writer with powerful immediacy -- a transformation that occurs, in large part, because of a mysterious illness that threatens to cripple her. 

I thought her prose was beautiful and her narrative both whimsical and grounded.  I especially enjoyed her memories from a mostly-happy childhood in rural Wisconsin, her commitment to her music, her reflections on faith, and her lovely thoughts on writing at the end of the piece.

Market: Memoir
Language: Mild-Moderate (I actually can't remember any, but I never notice bad language, so I've rated it this way just in case) ;-)
Sensuality: Mild (some typical coming-of-age sexual reflections and experiences; not a major theme and nothing graphic)
Violence: None
Mature Themes: illness, loss of faith, family dynamics

Book formats:
Limbo: A Memoir (paperback)
Limbo (e-book)

To learn more about the author, visit: A. Manette Ansay


Anonymous said...

This sounds like a memoir I'd enjoy. Thanks for reviewing it, Katie! I'll add it to my To Read list.

Amy Finnegan {} said...

Being a writer myself, I can't begin to understand how sharp her mind must be to be able to write so well with the use of what, I assume, is a speech recognition program.

When I write, I swear that my thoughts are formulated by my hand, and it sounds like the author doesn't have good use of her hands anymore. I could never, ever SPEAK paragraphs and such (and especially not revise/edit!) and have my novels turn out even decent, let alone lyrical. I absolutely must type.

The saddest thing though is that she can't play her piano anymore. That's truly heartbreaking!

What a woman to go on, and to find purpose and joy in another craft :)

Thanks for the review, Katie! It was fabulous!

Katie L. said...

Amy, I actually can't remember whether she uses speech recognition software or not. Somehow I seem to remember her saying that she got well enough to write by hand, though it's painful. I'd check my copy of the book to be sure, but I've loaned it out. :-)

Either way, to persevere the way she does is a testament to the strength of her will and the pull of her impulse to create!

And I hear you on the typing thing: I can hardly put together a coherent sentence when I'm speaking. I make my living writing sales copy and I've sometimes wondered what I would do if I lost the use of my hands somehow. I'd be in big trouble, that's for sure!