Flying Solo CL

Leonard Kriegel, Author
Leonard Kriegel, Author Beacon Press (MA) $22 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8070-7230-1
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
In this unflinching yet lyrical memoir, Kriegel (On Men and Manhood) exalts an American mythic vision of mid-20th-century machismo. As with all myths, his vision is a compound of truth, fantasy, history and poetry. Transformed through the imagination of a gifted writer who possesses the soul of a reluctant agnostic, Kriegel's own life is explored here under the classic Hemingwayesque demand ""to be a man."" In 1944, when the rest of the world is absorbed by a war of monstrous evil, 11-year-old Kriegel is crippled by polio. In a matter-of-fact style, the author wheels us through the Dickensian hallways of his childhood. We feel his ecstasy at his first wheelchair--a combination of liberating device and infernal implement, symbolic reminder of permanent loss. We leap out of sequence to the almost-present, as the tormented sister of a Vietnam vet questions the author about existence in a wheelchair. She is trying to get a handle on the life and possible suicide of her brother, crippled in the war. There is a meditation on the smithy to the Greek gods, the lame cuckold Hephaestus, himself a god, whom Kriegel sees as a paradigm for the handicapped. The author never apologizes for his contempt of contemporary niceties and political correctness (he uses the term ""cripple"" throughout). Never pulling a punch, the would-have-been Bronx streetfighter extols the manly virtues of anger, revenge and rage against the fates, lacing his words with lively and relevant literary references, without a trace of academic stodginess. (Jan.)
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