In "Limbo," a memoir by A. Manette Ansay, the author remembers growing up in the sixties and seventies, for the most part, with fondness. Although Ann's traditional Catholic upbringing gave her nightmares on more than one occasion, the strict rules and routines that governed her life made her feel secure. When her parents took her to Wisconsin, she got to know her large extended family, which included sixty-seven cousins. As a youngster, Ann enjoyed physical activity of any sort. She loved to run, jump, and wrestle, and she even did sit-ups and push-ups when she was in elementary school.
One of the great loves of Ann's life was music. She took piano lessons for years and practiced for hours each day. She became so proficient that she was eventually admitted to the prestigious Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. Tragically, her promising musical career was cut short when physical symptoms that she had been battling for years suddenly grew worse. She suffered from intense pain in her arms and legs, and the doctors she consulted could not agree on a diagnosis. She tried cortisone shots, anti-inflammatory drugs, splints, braces, surgery, hypnosis, and many other treatments. Nothing cured her, although there were times when she could walk under her own power for short distances. However, because of the pain in her arms, Ann knew that she had to give up her dream of becoming a concert pianist. After much soul searching, she eventually turned to writing.
"Limbo" is an episodic memoir that goes back and forth in time. The shifts are sometimes too sudden and they give the book a choppy feel. In addition, it is a bit confusing when Ansay uses the present tense to describe events long past. However, her descriptive writing is vivid, lyrical, and evocative. She uses creative imagery to depict the people she has known and the experiences that have shaped her life. The author includes in her memoir engrossing anecdotes about a wide variety of topics, including her troubled Grandmother Ansay, the way that Chaim Potok's novel, "The Chosen" changed her view of the world, her ambivalence about religion, and her childhood worries and escapades.
The book is most affecting when Ann talks about her illness and how it transformed her. She attended and completed college, even though she was unable to take notes or written exams. Strangers stared and pointed at her in her wheelchair or made rude comments about her disability, such as, "You've got it easy--the rest of us have to walk." However, the illness brought Ann closer to her parents, especially her mother, who was an invaluable asset to her sick daughter. In 1986, Ann's mother took her on a seven-hour drive to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota every six weeks for treatments.
Today, Ansay is a successful writer, and she has come to terms with her condition. She says, "It's a good life, made up of the people I love, the novels I've written and those I plan to write . . . ." Her persistence, determination, and resilience are inspiring, and I recommend "Limbo" for those who are interested in a true story of courage and grace under pressure.