THIS WEEK’S OTHER FEATURED BOOK, “AMERICAN AMNESIAC,” BY DIANE RAPTOSH, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST, ALONG WITH THE “FIRST TUESDAY REPLAY.” OR, YOU CAN CLICK THE AUTHOR’S NAME ON OUR AUTHOR PAGE.
THE BOOK: All the Difference
PUBLISHED IN: 2017
THE AUTHOR: Patricia Horvath
THE PUBLISHER: Etruscan Press
Etruscan is a non-profit literary press working to produce and promote books that nurture the dialogue among genres, cultures, and voices.
SUMMARY: All the Difference is a captivating account of the author’s transformation from a visibly disabled young woman to someone who could, abruptly, “pass” for able-bodied. In prose that is searing and humorous Patricia Horvath details her experiences with bracing and spinal fusion, as she considers the literature of physical transformation and how folk and fairy tales shape our attitudes towards the disabled.
Diagnosed with scoliosis as an adolescent, Patricia Horvath wore a brace for three years and, when that failed to work, her spine was fused and she was immobilized in a chin-to-knee cast for nearly half a year. She had to relearn how to walk; more significantly, she had to learn to fashion an identity as a person who was no longer seen–and treated–as disabled. All the Difference considers the relationship between disability and self-identity–what happens to one’s sense of self when a physical disability ceases to be visible. Along the way the book takes in family relationships, class dynamics, 1970s pop and drug culture, mythology and fairy tales of transformation, romantic love, and the myriad ways in which women’s bodies are commodified.
THE BACK STORY: “All the Difference resulted from my reaction to a diagnosis of osteoporosis while I was still in my 30s. I felt that my body had once again “betrayed” me, and the diagnosis re-opened many submerged feelings I had about my spinal fusion and bracing from my adolescent years. The impetus for my writing is two-pronged: vexation and inquiry. That is, something is bothering me, and I need to understand why. The “something” in this case was my body, and the need to understand my complex relationship to it is the source of this book.
“I originally wrote All the Difference as a short story, and the members of my writing group, after asking me pointed questions about that story’s genesis, pushed me to write the “actual” story of my experience. In the process of writing All the Difference, I found my old medical records as well as my journal entries from that time of my life, and an account that my mother wrote for a Continuing Education course at Fairfield University. All of those eventually made their way into the book. It’s one of the few times in my life when I felt happy to be a pack rat.”
WHY THIS TITLE?: The title derives from the final line in Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.” All the Difference examines issues of personal autonomy as they relate to disabled people and the notion that the able-bodied and the disabled inhabit distinct and separate paths. The book considers the porous boundary between the able-bodied and the physically disabled.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? All the Difference is unique among memoirs for its strong narrative arc, conveying the author’s transformation from a visibly disabled young woman to someone who could, abruptly, “pass” for able-bodied. The book will particularly appeal to people interested in literary nonfiction, coming of age stories, disability studies, and feminist body issues.
Author Patricia Horvath provides a moving account of her struggles with physical disability and her subsequent ambivalence about “passing” for able-bodied. The book considers how disability is configured broadly in literature and explores the ways in which women’s bodies are subject to scrutiny. Her story will certainly resonate with a wide readership, especially readers are grappling with their own body issues.
“In her elegant book All the Difference, Patricia Horvath recounts the difficult time of wrestling both with medical challenges and adolescence. It is a graceful story not of overcoming challenge, but of accepting it.” — Nina MacLaughin, The Boston Globe
“A beautifully written, thoughtful memoir… Remarkably, there is not a sentence that hints of self-pity or lashes out at fate for the injustice or pain of her circumstances. Horvath’s short memoir is full of pleasures.” — Jonna Semeiks, Confrontation
“All the Difference is the poignant story of a woman’s struggle with scoliosis and early onset osteoporosis, but it is also the story of navigating the fractures of family and growing up. Horvath carefully excavates the fault lines and intersections of these powerful strands in her narrative, writing a heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful story about acceptance.” — Martha McPhee Author of Bright Angel Time & Dear Money
“All the Difference is as brave, honest, and beautiful a book as I have read in years. The book abounds in wonderfully vivid scenes and great humor even as it makes us understand the cruel and curious ways the bodies we live with create—both physically and emotionally—who we are. A stunning, memorable achievement.” — Jay Neugeboren, Author of Imagining Robert
AUTHOR PROFILE: Patricia Horvath’s stories and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals, including The Massachusetts Review, The Los Angeles Review, New Ohio Review, Shenandoah, Confrontation, The Laurel Review, 2 Bridges Review, and Cream City Review. A recipient of New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships in both fiction and literary nonfiction, she was awarded Bellevue Literary Review’s Goldenberg Prize in Fiction for a story that was accorded a Special Mention in the 2013 Pushcart Prize anthology. Her essay “Wrath” was named a Notable Essay of 2015 in Best American Essays. She teaches at Framingham State University in Massachusetts and divides her time between Cambridge, MA, and Harlem, NY where she lives with her husband, Jeff, and her cat, Puck.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: “All the Difference considers the porous border between the disabled and the able-bodied. Author Patricia Horvath recounts her journey from being identifiably disabled to someone who abruptly ceases to bear the visible markers of disability.
“At a time when we have, in our highest office, someone who feels free to mock the disabled, All the Difference examines a range of attitudes towards physical disability. The book examines the myriad ways in which our literature conflates physical disability with moral failing. A coming of age story, All the Difference is, as well, an account of family dyamics, romantic love, the ways in which our bodies define us, and the even greater ways in which we push back against those definitions.”
I moved to New York during the first year of the new century, a boom time, though my neighborhood, Central Harlem, was not yet booming.
The sales office for my building was a double wide trailer parked on West 116th Street. The marketing director, a formidable woman with a crown of coiled braids, referred to me as her “queen.” As in: “And how is my queen today?”
Like the other women in the office sh was overtly religious, and on the day I signed the purchase and sale agreement for my unit, a Sunday, she celebrated by inviting me into the office staff’s prayer circle. I stood between her and the accountant in a group of a dozen or so praying, swaying women, all of us holding hands.
Some of the women “testified”—about struggles overcome, family members who needed help, a son in prison, a daughter with an addiction, a diploma recently achieved, people who needed prayers of supplication or thanks. I didn’t know the words to the prayers and I had no inclination to testify, but I felt moved to be included in this circle, to have crossed some invisible barrier from client to communicant.
When it was my turn to give thanks, I said simply, I’m so happy to be here.
Across the street from my new building were two vacant lots heaped with demolished car parts that glittered in the sun.
The lone neighborhood supermarket had brown lettuce, sawdust-strewn floors, gangsta rap. There were abandoned buildings on both sides of every block. Crack vials crunched underfoot; I had to pay attention whenever I wore sandals. But my apartment was large and sunny, and every day, weather permitting, I went for a walk in Central Park.
I had only to read the paper to be reminded, starkly, of how my neighborhood differed from New York below 110th Street.
There, people ate gold-flecked desserts in celebrity restaurants. Hermès kept a waiting list for five-figure Birkin bags. A famous woman with a famous father backed her Mercedes SUV into a crowd of people milling about a Hamptons nightclub while screaming “Fuck you, white trash!”
I’d known about the excess before moving, of course. Still, the contrast between where and how I lived and the antics taking place to the south was jarring. One day, I no longer recall where, I read an article about a couple who had plastic surgery and liked the results so much that they decided to have their children undergo the process, too, “So we’ll look more like a family.”
I’d been diagnosed with osteoporosis only a few months earlier, and it occurred to me that this was a serviceable metaphor for the creative person in the consumerist vortex that was twenty-first century Manhattan. So I wrote a story in which a woman, a poet, is shrinking so rapidly that she has to carry a milk crate to stand on. When she disappears entirely, no one notices.
The story, being somewhat heavy-handed, didn’t really work. It was funny, but tainted by bitterness. I knew that. Still, I showed it to some colleagues in my writing group, who asked me about the piece’s genesis.
So I told them. About my osteoporosis and then, haltingly, about its precursor, scoliosis, the years I’d worn back braces and body casts, my spinal fusion at age fifteen, the difficulty I’d had re-learning how to walk, the even greater difficulty of learning to see myself as “able-bodied.”
I’d known these women for years. We’d gone to grad school together, had met every Thursday night for dinner and workshops, and had stayed in touch when school ended.
They were astonished. We had no idea, they said. Why didn’t you ever tell us?
It doesn’t seem important anymore. Even as I said this, I knew it was a lie, a way of distancing myself from the house of cards I still felt my body to be.
That’s the story you need to write. They were adamant and unanimous. I didn’t want to listen. These women, my confidantes, were urging me to open a door I’d nailed shut. No, I thought, I’ll never write that; it’s nothing I want to revisit.
But I knew they were right. Without vexation, another word for conflict, there’s no story. I’d held back for so long, erased so many years. Difficult as it might prove, maybe writing would be a way to reclaim them.
The next day I began.
LOCAL OUTLETS: Book Culture, New York, NY; Porter Square Books, Cambridge MA; Barnes & Noble, Framingham, MA
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Goodreads
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Contact the author through her webpage: https://patricialhorvath.com/