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Smile: The Story of a Face (Hardcover)
October 2021 Indie Next List
“Sarah Ruhl’s memoir about motherhood and illness is wise and true and generous. This is such a beautiful and important book; I know it will be a tremendously helpful and profound reading experience for many.”
— Keith Mosman, Powell's Books, Portland, OR
2022 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence Longlist Selection
The extraordinary story of one woman’s ten-year medical and metaphysical odyssey that brought her physical, creative, emotional, and spiritual healing, by a MacArthur genius and two-time Pulitzer finalist.
With a play opening on Broadway, and every reason to smile, Sarah Ruhl has just survived a high-risk pregnancy when she discovers the left side of her face is completely paralyzed. She is assured that 90 percent of Bell’s palsy patients see spontaneous improvement and experience a full recovery. Like Ruhl’s own mother. But Sarah is in the unlucky ten percent. And for a woman, wife, mother, and artist working in theater, the paralysis and the disconnect between the interior and exterior brings significant and specific challenges. So Ruhl begins an intense decade-long search for a cure while simultaneously grappling with the reality of her new face—one that, while recognizably her own—is incapable of accurately communicating feelings or intentions.
In a series of piercing, witty, and lucid meditations, Ruhl chronicles her journey as a patient, wife, mother, and artist. She explores the struggle of a body yearning to match its inner landscape, the pain of postpartum depression, the story of a marriage, being a playwright and working mom to three small children, and the desire for a resilient spiritual life in the face of illness.
Brimming with insight, humility, and levity, Smile is a triumph by one of America’s leading playwrights. It is an intimate examination of loss and reconciliation, and above all else, the importance of perseverance and hope in the face of adversity.
About the Author
Sarah Ruhl is a playwright and writer of other things. Her fifteen plays include In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play), The Clean House, and Eurydice. She has been a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, a Tony Award nominee, and the recipient of the MacArthur “genius” Fellowship. Her plays have been produced on- and off-Broadway, around the country, internationally, and have been translated into many languages. Her book 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write was a New York Times Notable Book. Her other books include Letters from Max, with Max Ritvo, and 44 Poems for You. She has received the Steinberg Playwright Award, the Samuel French Award, Feminist Press Under 40 Award, the National Theater Conference Person of the Year Award, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, a Whiting Award, a Lily Award, and a PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award for mid-career playwrights. She teaches at the Yale School of Drama, and she lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Tony Charuvastra, who is a child psychiatrist, and her three children. You can read more about her work at SarahRuhlPlaywright.com.
“Easily one of the best things I’ve read this year… Not unlike her stage work, thoughts, moods and ideas skip through so seamlessly, you pause momentarily, not out of confusion but to look up, surprised at your destination. If you require a memoir to provide a lesson, it’s this: Stop trying to read a person’s face.” —CHICAGO TRIBUNE
"A beautiful meditation on identity and how we see ourselves.” —REAL SIMPLE
"In this stunning work, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ruhl reflects on her long and arduous battle with Bell’s palsy after giving birth to twins....As she recounts learning to find joy in small things—such as regaining the ability to blink—Ruhl proves that even life at its most mundane can be fascinating. This incredibly inspiring story offers hope where it’s least expected." —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (starred review)
“Wise, intimate, and moving…. A captivating, insightful memoir.” —KIRKUS REVIEWS (starred review)
"Smile is at once an illness narrative, a meditation on smiling as cultural practice and symbol, and a compelling, behind-the-scenes look at the life of a playwright and mother." —SHELF AWARENESS
"With a poet’s sharp eye for detail and a playwright’s grasp of both the tragic and the absurd, Sarah Ruhl has written a remarkable book. Smile is at once a gripping story and a profound exploration of the mysteries of illness. I know of nothing like it." —JAMES SHAPIRO, author of Shakespeare in a Divided America
"I’m now accustomed to Sarah’s whipping out profound and necessary books that I can’t put down even when I smell dinner burning, but I guess I wasn’t prepared for her book about Bell’s Palsy to provide some of the most deeply romantic passages about married love I have ever read. I smiled, for sure, but I also swooned and ached and was left with goose-flesh more than once. I adore this book."
—MARY LOUISE PARKER, New York Times bestselling author of Dear Mr. You
“Sarah Ruhl's ravishing memoir, Smile, is that rare and gorgeous melding of gemlike, literary insights, raw honesty, heart break and radiant wisdom. It took my breath away. For real.” —V (formerly Eve Ensler), New York Times bestselling author of I Am an Emotional Creature, The Vagina Monologues and The Apology
“I bet everyone reading this has had difficulty expressing an internal reality. Now imagine an affliction that separates the two physically. With poignancy and power, Smile helps us all to find ways of expressing our internal truth. It helped me to both learn and grow." —GLORIA STEINEM, author of My Life on the Road
“Smile is staggeringly great. The idea of the tragic versus the disappointing would have frightened most writers into silence. But the truth is that the disappointing is often the high point of human agony. All of us have disappointments that we try to keep secret because we’re ashamed and want to be above them. We are not above them. And Smile speaks to this predicament with extreme insight.” —BETH HENLEY, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Crimes of the Heart