Limbo: A Memoirby A. Manette Ansay
From 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
From 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.
Read an Excerpt
I have moved eleven times in the sixteen years since leaving home, a word that to me will always mean southeastern Wisconsin, and the little town where I was raised, and my grandmother's one-hundred-acre farm seven miles to the north. At thirty-six, wading through the shallows of middle age, I have been permanently shaped -- and am still held fast -- by landscapes that exist in memory alone, though this makes them no less real when they come to me in dreams, when fragments are triggered by a random fact or phrase. Here is my body's lost exuberance. Here is my Catholic faith, that Gothic cathedral, that haunted house. Here are the straight highways, the crops and their seasons, the blue haze of Lake Michigan: wide open space beneath a close sky.
It doesn't take much -- a look, a phrase -- and suddenly I'm a child once more, running hard and fast down a narrow dirt road that has since been developed into another antiseptic side street, the fallow fields surrounding it sold, subdivided, populated by three-bedroom ranch houses, each wrapped in vinyl the color of a hospital gown, each with its garage door shut, an expressionless face, like someone waiting for bad news. Yet there's no sense, as I run, that I'm recreating something, repainting this landscape as if by numbers, filling in color and sound. I'm simply here, I'm home, and any return to the present will be informed by what I've seen.
How is it that, for this splendid moment, I'm able to run -- something I haven't done since I was twenty -- elbows pumping, heels striking the earth, carrying myself deeper into a place that is nowhere, nothing, lost, in a body whose unselfconscious sense of movement, whose entitlement to such movement, is lost as well? The part in my hair feels like a cut where the August sun strikes against it, the skin tingling pink. There's a sweet, cold ache in my chest, a lemonade taste in my mouth. I feel as if I could run forever, but, of course, I'm wrong. When the ball of my foot meets a stone, I suck in my breath and hop toward the ditch, where I collapse matter-of-factly to inspect the damage.
A coin of blood, bright as a posy. In its center, a pebble. A scrutinizing eye.
Automatically, I offer my thanks to God, my pain to the Poor Souls in Purgatory. The pebble is God's message, His communication, His way of making me pay attention; I study it the way I'd study a difficult problem at school. Give thanks in all circumstances, the Bible says. Perhaps, the pebble kept me from running ahead into the path of a rattlesnake sunning itself in the dust. Perhaps, the pebble has delayed me just long enough to prevent me from crossing Holden Street, where I live, just as a speeding car hurtles through. In my world, in the deep, underwater sleep of belief, there is no such thing as an accident. Just because you can't find the reason doesn't mean it isn't there. God is simply testing you, testing the condition of your Faith.
I imagine my Faith like a diamond or ruby, a shining, precious stone. Something that must be protected. Something that can be shattered, stolen, lost. A person who loses their Faith, I know, becomes an atheist. The sound of the word gives me the feeling I get when, at slumber parties, my friends and I sneak outside. We walk through the darkness in our flimsy nightgowns, pretending there is somebody following just behind us, a man dressed in black and holding a knife. We can feel his hot breath on our shoulders. We can hear him licking his lips. We stare straight ahead, taking slow deliberate steps, for he's unable to touch any of us -- as long as we all stick together. As long as nobody looks back.
I stand up, brush off my shorts, eager to head back home. Already, the pebble is a story I can tell, a currency to be spent. I'll walk all the way to Holden Street on my heel, careful not to jar the pebble loose. There, I'll find my younger brother and make him watch me dig it out. If he's admiring, I'll let him keep it. If he feigns indifference, I'll tell him about tetanus, enact the grim onset of symptoms, suck my cheeks hollow as starvation sets in. When he's on the verge of telling our mother, tears bright in his eyes, I'll admit that I've had a tetanus shot.
Then, with slow relish, I'll describe the length of the needle, how the nurse shoved it in, to the bone.
"The cradle rocks above an abyss," Vladamir Nabokov writes, "and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness."
Memory, then, like the switch on the wall. The pull chain on the lamp.
My first memory is of memory itself -- and the fear of its loss, that vast outer dark.
One night, as I lay floating in the still, dark pond between wakefulness and sleep, a stray thought breached the surface like a fish. You will forget this. I opened my eyes. To my right, tucked under the covers beside me, was an eyeless Raggedy Ann doll. To my left, on top of the covers, was a large plastic spark plug -- a display model that my father, a traveling salesman, had coaxed from some farm dealership and presented to me. My father's gifts were unpredictable and strange: hotel ashtrays, pens with company slogans trailing down their sides, desiccated frogs and snakes he found along the highway, jaws pulled back in agonized smiles. These things populated the bedroom I shared with my two-year-old brother...
Meet the Author
A. Manette Ansay is the author of eight books, including Vinegar Hill, Midnight Champagne (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Blue Water. She has received the Pushcart Prize, two Great Lakes Book Awards, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. She teaches in the MFA writing program at the University of Miami.
- Port Washington, Wisconsin; now lives in New York City
- Date of Birth:
- Place of Birth:
- Lapeer, Michigan
- MFA, Cornell University, 1991
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This was an excellent memoir. Ms. Mansay seems much wiser than her years. As a person with physical disabilities myself, I found her outlook realistic, but still uplifting. She really hits a chord when she describes our society's tendency to blame the sickness on the person afflicted. Her comparison of herself and her father was moving. I thought she portrayed her family in a loving, supportive light. I found much insight into the human condition in this book, and would recommend it to anyone.
Ansay does a beautiful job of describing her childhood in rural Wisconsin, her stuggle with faith and the disability that took away her dream of becoming a concert painist. She pulls readers into the story, and by the end of the book she shows readers what a gift having a disability can be. Her disabilty strengthened her faith and made her life what it is today.
Oh my God, can this incredibly gifted author write!!!! This was one of the best reads for me in years! This memoir wrapped a fishnet around me and gently pulled me in. This book is so descriptive and moving; you truly ache with Ann's pain, both literally and figurative, in various moments/months of her life. Few people would continue to be so driven, when facing so many obstacles. Ann continually seeks the beauty in hours of piano practice, when strangers or relatives disappoint her. When her health attacks her passion for music, she must do an enormous u-turn, and seek a new passion; thankfully for us, she discovers that she can WRITE. I plan to buy everything she has written. A bonus for me, is that we have both lived in Wisconsin. Her love of rolling hills, barns, dairy cows and hard work, seeps into your bones. Hated for this memoir to end! You must buy this book. I recommend a hardback, if you can find one! You will want to re-read this. Ann, please come back to Madison to read from your latest book!
A really tragic story but very uplifting all the same. The human spirit is truly remarkable, and I was surprised to learn the author's identity at the end...
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