One good thing we can say about 2020: It’s been a terrific year for books by and about amputees. We’ve introduced you to some of them already, including Sonia Purcell’s A Woman of No Importance, Sara Hendren’s What Can a Body Do?, and the Design Museum’s Bespoke Bodies. But there are quite a few others we never got a chance to spotlight. Here are six 2020 books related to limb loss that you should know about.
Stephen Mackelprang, The Hop About
We were hooked after reading the first paragraph from The Hop About‘s introduction: “In the spring of 2014, a man found himself with no left leg and half of a right foot on top of world-famous Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. A year earlier, this man had left Salt Lake City in search of himself in a car that he bought from selling a prosthetic leg on eBay. Five years prior to that, this guy had awoken from a coma as a double amputee.”
We’d share more, but we can’t: The book was just released a couple days ago, and we haven’t received our copy yet. But we’ve read Mackelprang’s conversation with Bjoern Eser at the Active Amputee, and that’s enough to spur us to grab a copy of The Hop About and recommend you do the same.
In the interview with Eser, MackSteve (as the author calls himself on Instagram) describes a guerrilla swim in Oregon’s Crater Lake. “There is a little shed which had the best footing to jump off of, especially for me. It had a sign saying “Stay Off” . . . . . but I wanted to do a back flip off the shed, so I did. All the people there were so excited I did it again, and they helped me with my prosthetics. It’s a blessing of sorts being able to get people so excited.”
We’re psyched, too; can’t wait to read more. Order direct from the publisher.
Claude McKay, Romance in Marseilles
How does a book written circa 1928 become one of literary critics’ favorite “new” books in 2020? Per the New York Times, “copyright conflicts and a lack of market interest prevented the book’s publication” when it was originally written; after the author’s death in 1948, the manuscript got deposited in an archive and lay, forgotten, until fairly recently.
The long delay might also have something to do with Romance in Marseilles‘ subject matter, which addresses themes that are plenty provocative by today’s standards, let alone those of a century ago. The plot revolves around a West African sailor who stows away on a trans-Atlantic freighter, loses both legs to frostbite on the voyage, sues the shipping company for a fortune, and returns to Europe to scheme, dream, live high, and indulge in radical politics and promiscuous sex.
The novel’s overarching punch line, notes the Times, is that “the amputation of Lafala’s legs leads to a financial windfall and thus to a sort of mobility.” Likewise, limb loss enables the character to stand tall as a champion of society’s misfits and outcasts, and to grapple toe-to-toe with the rich and mighty. With its pointed observations about race, wealth, disability, and power, this book may as well have been written in the outrageous year of 2020.
Christa Couture, How to Lose Everything
“[H]aving cancer and having my hair fall out, and being hospitalized, and then losing my leg and learning to walk again, felt like just a really over-the-top version of adolescence,” says the author of this exquisite memoir. Tragically, amputation was only the first episode of loss and grief in Couture’s life. She subsequently lost two children and her marriage, then was stricken with a new form of cancer that threatened her career as a singer/songwriter.
Some of these events were more than losses, Couture says; they were “dismantlings” that required her not only to rebuild but to redesign herself. She found solace in some unlikely places, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the online video game World of Warcraft. And she formed new bonds of community and discovered unexpected sources of joy.
Couture’s grace and courage are beyond admirable. Her ability to weave the fragmented strands of her life into patterns of meaning and beauty is simply wonderful.
Kati Gardner, Finding Balance
“How do you move on from cancer when the world won’t let you?” asks this semi-autobiographical young adult novel. The protagonist, Mari—like the author—is a childhood cancer survivor and LAK amputee seeking to express her identity in a world that keeps her boxed into the “disability” compartment.
“Often in novels where a teenager has cancer they are almost saintly,” Gardner says. “And I really wanted to show that they are still teenagers who can be mean, who make bad decisions, who can be selfish, and that, you know, are still evolving as a person.”
Although the fictional Mari exhibits all those imperfections, she’s never guilty of complacency nor lack of agency. In many ways, her experience of limb loss gives her an advantage over her peers. She’s better able to adapt, more accepting of her flaws, and more resilient in the face of others’ misjudgments compared to her peers—and compared to most adults, for that matter. There’s plenty to learn from this 17-year-old protagonist for folks of all ages.
Robert Pobi, Under Pressure
This is Pobi’s second novel starring Lucas Page, a double amputee (one arm, one leg) and gonzo physicist/mathematician who can distill every murder scene to its component forces and angles. He’s also a disenchanted ex-FBI agent who’s nearly as repulsed by crime solvers as by crime perpetrators. Page would rather be at home hanging out with his five adopted kids or teaching his students at Columbia instead of sifting through the wreckage of the bombed-out Guggenheim, helping the Bureau zero in on a mass killer/revolutionary/psychopath. But he can’t resist the challenge of solving the puzzle.
You’ll find it hard to resist, too. This is genre fiction, but it’s fast-paced and fun to read, and Lucas Page is excellent company. The Wall Street Journal, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, BookPage, and Kirkus all give Under Pressure unqualified recommendations. If you’re a fan of mystery-thrillers and/or crime procedurals, you won’t be disappointed.
Kendra Herber, Whole: A Leg Up on Life
“Memoirs are my favorite genre because I enjoy learning about others’ experiences,” says the author. “I am a firm believer in obtaining knowledge to reduce fear. We’re often scared of the unknown.”
In her own memoir, Herber defuses fear by detailing her own encounters with the unknown. As a congenital amputee, she grew up visibly different from her peers and developed various coping mechanisms—some of them healthy, others less so—to overcome her anxieties. She also fought through chronic physical pain, which often resulted from Herber’s determination to conquer the limitations others might place on her and defy their expectations and perceptions.
“If I could have seen examples of amputees overcoming obstacles and being confident despite their differences, it likely would not have taken me so long to figure things out by myself,” Herber says. Her own example is a worthy one.