“Body Remember”–a moving memoir

Fries, Kenny, “Body, Remember: A Memoir”, University of Wisconsin Press, 1997, 2003.

A Moving Memoir

Amos Lassen

Kenny Fries in “Body, Remember” has written a memoir that moves one to tears As we embark on a journey from sympathy to admiration, we read a book without a false note in it. When Fries wrote his memoir he was 36 years old and a noted poet, an essayist, and a critic. He writes what it is like to be disabled—he was born with two malformed legs as a result of a congenital birth defect and he endured many operations to correct. There is no “pity me” in his memoir—he uses honesty and even allows those he is or has been at odds with to maintain their dignity. With extreme patience Fries looks back on his life and explores family documents, medical records and memory (his own and his parents’) to try to understand how he got to be where he is. He discovers that the details of his early life were unspoken but he was able to map out his sexual identity and sexual desire. As he comes to terms with himself, he also writes about what it is like to be different.

Fries is a man very concerned with identity.

Being gay and Jewish help him form a self image and as a person with a defect, he uses his memoir to help discover who he is. It is his disability that rules his life and it cannot be ignored as the most important facet of his life—in fact, it claims most of his attention. He has a complex self image, especially regarding his gayness by which his disability is not a part. He explores where he stands in terms of his religion concerning his homosexuality. These three personas—disabled, gay, and Jewish are the issues that concern him most and he reaches no conclusion—at least none that I could see. He seems to be able to balance the three. This lack of perspective is the only fault I can find with otherwise a beautifully written memoir.

The beauty of the writing is the way that Fries interweaves memories and fragments from his life. It is almost hard to read when he writes of his brother who abused him both sexually and physically. Likewise his meetings with men in Israel and his ill-fated relationships with two other men are sad and heart-rending. He finally, after the publication of his poetry and years of psychotherapy, manages to achieve happiness with another man, Kevin, with whom he is still partnered.

Fries wars scars on his body and on his mind and his self awareness of his physical deformity is examined in great detail. The book is deeply personal and is not a history but a memoir. He takes us on a journey from the shallow end of life where he could barely use his own legs to where he is able to achieve a rich and happy life.

As I read, I thought how lucky I was that I only had to endure two of Fries problems—being Jewish and being gay. I can’t imagine how much a physical disability can even make life that much harder.

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