What do we sacrifice in the pursuit of normalcy? And what becomes possible when we embrace monstrosity? Can we envision a world that sees impossible creatures? In 1958, amongst the children born with spina bifida is Riva Lehrer. At the time, most such children are not expected to survive. Her parents and doctors are determined to fix her, sending the message over and over again that she is broken. Everything changes when, as an adult, Riva is invited to join a group of artists, writers, and performers who are building Disability Culture. This memoir invites us to stretch ourselves toward a world where bodies flow between all possible forms of what it is to be human.
As so-called monsters and frequent heroes, golems illustrate the terror and the promise of embodied life, and as the governing metaphor for artist and professor Riva Lehrer’s penetrating and razor-witted debut, Golem Girl, ... The subtitle of this incisive tome is 'a memoir' and the book certainly is that: a multifaceted account of Lehrer’s life from her birth in 1958 to the present. But so too is it a captivating social history of disability culture from the mid-20th century until now ... Brainy and bodily, sexy and soulful, Lehrer’s writing exhibits the force of will needed to make one’s way in a culture where, “If it’s medically possible to push a body toward that social ideal, then we make it a moral imperative to do so.” Humor sharpens almost every page ... Like a savvy curator, Lehrer leads her audience from incomprehension to understanding, from innocence to experience, building a messy arc full of stalls and setbacks, repetitions and revelations ... a beautiful meditation on monstrousness, bodies and the souls they contain.
An artist born with spina bifida shares her story and her paintings with grace and humor ... Lehrer, whose paintings of what she calls “socially challenged bod[ies]” hang in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian and many other museums, narrates her difficult childhood with an eloquence and freedom from self-pity ... Her evolving self-awareness as an artist, a disabled person, and a woman with a complicated sexuality are well-explored, and her prose ranges from light and entertaining to intellectually and emotionally serious—and always memorable ... An extraordinary memoir suffused with generosity, consistent insight, and striking artwork.
Painter Lehrer applies the same unflinching gaze for which her portraits are known to a lifetime with spina bifida in this trenchant debut memoir of disability and queer culture ... The book’s second half, however, loses some of the intimacy as Lehrer adopts a more didactic tone to describe a succession of relationships and document the rise of her career as an artist and the way her work explores the intersections of gender, sexuality, and disability (she includes photos and her own illustrations throughout). Lehrer notes that 'international debates (such as those in Belgium and the Netherlands) persist over whether to treat infants like me at all,' and observes that 'disability is the great billboard of human truth.... Add it to any discourse, and we can see what humanity truly values.' Readers will be sucked into Lehrer’s powerful memoir.