Reading A Whole New Life made an enduring impact on me, and I’ve recommended it to individuals suffering from chronic illnesses or severe pain. Those who have read it reported that it was extremely comforting and led them to seek alternative pain management avenues they had not previously considered.
Perhaps, my experience with this book feels so profound to me due to the serendipitous way in which I discovered it on the sparsely populated shelves of a new library in 1995. I recognized the author because I have a book of his short stories used in a literature course I had taken at Hendrix College. I obtained Reynolds Price’s autograph for my book in 1985 when he was in residence there for the debut of his play August Snow, commissioned by the Hendrix theater department. Many of the events recounted in A Whole New Life occurred during that time, and it was not until I read this book that I realized what a dramatic period of Price’s life I had briefly witnessed! I was spending a lot of time at the Cabe Theatre that fall, for a theatre arts class, and recall seeing Reynolds Price in a wheelchair during production sessions with the actors. I hadn’t realized that he had lost his ability to walk so recently and that the request to write August Snow was the impetus for eradicating a bout of writer’s block he’d been experiencing since the cancer and its treatment, the only interruption of his writing gift since his childhood.
“… and I heard the summons as coming from some benign source more complex than a college. … With the first week of work, however slow and against the grain of the past jangled months, I tasted the old lost pleasure of mimicry and vicarious life, the pleasure of becoming people other than me and with other dilemmas as grave as mine.”
In this memoir, Price testifies to his ordeal with a spinal tumor that caused paralysis, depression, and debilitating pain as well as to his spiritual experience and a healing vision that comes across as very authentic and quite inspirational. He survived with a grace and gratitude that instilled in me the desire to strive toward responding to whatever the future brings with acceptance and fortitude. Even religious skeptics will appreciate his eloquence in relating his spiritual growth in an honest manner that never seems preachy.
You can’t go wrong with a master of the well-told story. In the process, Price gives the reader an idea of what it’s like to go through such a life-changing experience, from the first unsettling thoughts regarding symptoms and events leading up to his diagnosis and his receiving the terrible news, to the effects on his relationships with family, friends, and loved ones and the permanent changes to his lifestyle and work environment. An appendix includes relevant poetry that he elucidates within the story.
Please explore the WRL catalog for A Whole New Life and other works by Reynolds Price. Blogging for a Good Book posted a tribute to him following his death in January 2011, with “Farewell, Reynolds Price.”