The first thing you notice about Jacquelin Gorman is her eyes: wide set and a startling shade of blue -- cornflower, if you remember your Crayolas, only brighter. It's ironic that such beautiful eyes could cause so much grief.
In 1991, for reasons not entirely understood, Gorman went blind for several months. The episode -- what she refers to simply as "getting sick" -- may or may not be a symptom of MS, and may or may not recur at any time for any length of time. Her doctors don't know and aren't venturing any guesses.
Sight and insight are the keynotes of her memoir, The Seeing Glass, a June release from Riverhead that has become an in-house favorite, with foreign rights already sold in Germany and Japan. Gorman's story will also be serialized, first in Good Housekeeping, followed by a second serial pickup in Reader's Digest.
Crosscut with Gorman's experience with blindness -- the terror, helplessness, disbelief, then the joy when she recovered -- is the story of her brother Robin, who was one of the first children to be diagnosed as autistic in the early 1950s. Jackie, the middle of five children in an accomplished Maryland family (her uncle is the p t Ogden Nash; her grandfather, ironically, was world-famous ophthalmologist Allen Woods) had the closest bond with Robin, whom she adored and even admired. His brief life (he died at 32 after being hit by a car), particularly his institutionalization, was a family tragedy that was rarely discussed privately, much less with outsiders.
Writing the memoir wasn't Gorman's idea; it was a sympathetic magazine editor's. "I associated memoirs with celebrity tell-alls, where authors air their dirty laundry and make the reader feel dirty reading it," said the attorney-turned-scribe. "I never, never thought anyone would find what happened to me to be all that interesting."
But a five-page essay published in Redbook evoked such a remarkable response that it led to her representation by agent James Levine, of James Levine Communications Inc., and to the development of a fuller book proposal and, ultimately, acquisition of the book by Riverhead editor Julie Grau.
Following a quick media tour, Gorman plans to return to a book idea she'd been mulling since before she got sick: a murder mystery set in a hospital that's also running a diet scam. "It's so nice not to write the 'eye' word. Or the 'I' word," she laughed.