Reynolds Price has long been one of America’’s most acclaimed and accomplished men of letters – the author of novels, stories, poems, essays, plays, and a memoir. In A Whole New Life, however, he steps from behind that roster of achievements to present us with a more personal story, a narrative as intimate and compelling as any work of the imagination.
In 1984, a large cancer was discovered in his spinal cord (“The tumor was pencil-thick and gray-colored, ten inches long from my neck-hair downward”). Here, for the first time, Price recounts without self-pity what became a long struggle to withstand and recover from this appalling, if all too common, affliction (one American in three will experience some from of cancer). He charts the first puzzling symptoms; the urgent surgery that fails to remove the growth and the radiation that temporarily arrests it (but hurries his loss of control of his lower body); the occasionally comic trials of rehab; the steady rise of severe pain and reliance on drugs; two further radical surgeries; the sustaining force of a certain religious vision; an eventual discovery of help from biofeedback and hypnosis; and the miraculous return of his powers as a writer in a new, active life.
Beyond the particulars of pain and mortal illness, larger concerns surface here – a determination to get on with the human interaction that is so much a part of this writer’’s much-loved work, the gratitude he feels toward kin and friends and some (though by no means all) doctors, the return to his prolific work, and the “now appalling, now astonishing grace of God."
A Whole New Life offers more than the portrait of one brave person in tribulation; it offers honest insight, realistic encouragement and inspiration to others who suffer the bafflement of catastrophic illness or who know someone who does or will.