Friday, January 19, 2007

Disability by Cris Mazza

What’s amazing about this book is that Mazza can unfold such a tiny piece of the world into such an interesting shape.

Her characters aren’t talking politics in Madrid, they’re not having epiphanies in the desert, and they’re not redefining cyberspace. They’re small women in a small part of the world, doing an insignificant job, governed by an insignificant boss, serving people who can’t respond. Instead of choosing, for her subject, people who usually find themselves being written about (those who are categorically superlative in some way – hidden or otherwise) she chooses two minimum wage nurse’s aides in a hospital for the severely disabled. Mazza doesn’t glorify these lives –she doesn’t give them secret insights or hidden depths. They remain, outside the book, invisible. They do not articulate their own ideas about their lives or their problems. They do not triumph and they are not destroyed. What's superlative about these women emerges in a small flower for a short time, and then fades. But it emerges in excrutiating clarity.

Part of the fascination of reading _Disability_ is in seeing “behind the scenes” in an unfamiliar setting – in this case the hospital, where the children have names like “Boardboy” and “Scooterboy” and the characters detail their experiences with the work. The administration is predictably idiotic, prescribing hearing therapy for deaf patients, and most of the aides are lazy and neglectful. This book, however, is not about how severely disabled people are treated in state hospitals. The book is about taking two women, really any women, *any women at all*, and finding a story in them, finding “enough” for a novel – proving them “worthy” of having a book written about them. It’s about taking up a hypothetical challenge – I dare you to write a book about *these two souls* and doing it in a way that had me turning pages intensely and reading at stop lights.

It may surprise you that the book is so compelling, given its small and honest scope, its lack of irony or plot twists. This is a story about women, told by a woman as only a woman could truly tell it. I think it’s exactly what we heard about in “A Room of One’s Own” – who cares about what the Prime Minister is doing – we want to hear about the girl behind the counter at the hat store. I think Virgnia Woolf would be very proud.

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