Happily married and in the flush of hard-earned professional success, with her first play opening on Broadway, Sarah Ruhl has just survived a high-risk pregnancy and given birth to twins when she discovers the left side of her face entirely paralyzed. Bell's palsy. Ninety percent of Bell's palsy sufferers see spontaneous improvement and full recovery, but Sarah Ruhl is in the unlucky ten percent.
In her thoughtful and moving memoir Smile, Ruhl reminds us that a smile is not just a smile but a vital form of communication, of bonding, of what makes us human ... Ruhl may have had access to more resources than most, but her struggles nonetheless feel universal. And that is the thread that binds this beautifully written story ... Ruhl may have lost the face she once knew but she reminds us that 'in truth, we don’t have to win to be grateful. We can always thank the people we love, the people who help us, even when we don’t win an award. We often just forget to.' That’s the kind of simple poignancy that elevates this book.
... sharply observed ... Even readers who have never suffered a serious physical injury will recognize that disconnect: the sense that the body and spirit are not always in sync. Ruhl captures this disconnect with honesty, grace and frequent flashes of wry humor, without always needing to wrap everything up into a tidy insight. Smile is at once an illness narrative, a meditation on smiling as cultural practice and symbol, and a compelling, behind-the-scenes look at the life of a playwright and mother.
Some sections of this slim book may feel padded (unless you’re riveted by the subject of gluten), and Ruhl’s detective work into her family medical history is speculative enough to feel tangential ... But there’s something pleasing about the memoir’s deliberately slow pace, mimicking Ruhl’s recovery over 10 years.