Will & I by Clay Byars

Will & IIt begins with a singing lesson, and these lessons serve as a refrain throughout this no-nonsense memoir of a man finding himself in the aftermath of injury and stroke.

As young men, Clay Byars and his identical twin brother Will were living the fairly privileged lives of college students.  One car wreck later, Clay had serious nerve damage in his right arm.  A botched surgery to correct this resulted in a horrific stroke, which deprived him of bodily movement below the eyes.

To his family, life was over for Clay.  For Clay, it was an uphill battle to regain use of his limbs.

It began as limited movement of his right leg and thumb.  After long periods of therapy, Clay was eventually self-mobile, although he has had to maintain a personal regimen of diet and gym work to keep up his body tone enough to function – which he does.  Clay even manages a large extent of independence, in that he lives by himself, thankfully with neighbors who keep an eye on him and help him with the occasional odd job.

Will & I is a quietly told, unsentimental account that lacks the sensationalism that often flavors recovery memoirs, and a quick read.  I liked how Clay relates his story very matter-of-factly, and concerning his interactions with family and others, it’s obvious that he isn’t a saint.  In a way, this is refreshing – his story is inspiring without being heavy-handed.

Clay also downplays regret.  For sure, it’s here, and there are places where he muses over the differences between him and his brother, who went on to marry a former girlfriend of Clay’s and have kids.  He briefly considers what could have been, and then quickly shifts back to what is more immediate.

I’d read that Clay had worked with John Jeremiah Sullivan on the book’s structure – read Sullivan’s Pulphead for some super good essays.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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