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.
... to run into an illness memoir that one would call 'delightful' would seem to be a rare occurrence. Yet I just read... Smile ... Ruhl's explanation of celiac is a must-read if you don't understand how serious a problem this is, which most of us don't, associating it with some sort of trendy gluten-free diet ... Ruhl takes you with her on a journey that is as much spiritual as it is medical. All the smiles she was missing will likely land on your face. There is a wonderful list of sources and resources at the end, including theater, philosophy, music, medicine and more—reminding us how much richness is seamlessly integrated into the narrative without pretension ... an admirably light touch in describing adversity.
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.