The Depiction of Disability and Disease in Fiction

Way back in 2012, I wrote a column for The Huffington Post about disability and disease in literature. I thought I’d revisit that topic today with some relevant novels I’ve read during the seven years since then.

In that blog post for the later-went-downhill HP, I mentioned characters with bodily challenges in novels such as Jane Eyre, Moby-Dick, A Christmas Carol, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Roots, Misery, Treasure Island, Johnny Got His Gun, and the Harry Potter series. I also had this to say about the topic:

“Protagonists with physical issues can be admirable, inspirational, pitiable, embittered, etc. — or a mix of all those things. It’s fascinating for readers to see how a disability affects a character’s psyche and actions, for better or worse. Readers also might wonder what they’d do if they were disabled themselves.”

And of course readers who are disabled themselves may very well identify with protagonists in a similar situation.

I added in the 2012 post that such characters might be “underrepresented in literature for various reasons — including the discomfort some authors and readers might have with (them), and the fear of other authors that they might not depict physically challenged protagonists in an adequate way.”

Yet plenty of novels include very or somewhat disabled characters, who are often sympathetic — but not always.

The most recent novel of this type I read was Still Alice, just last week. Also known for the movie version that won Julianne Moore (pictured above) an Oscar, Lisa Genova’s haunting book chronicles Dr. Alice Howland’s descent into early-onset Alzheimer’s — with the story poignantly told from Alice’s point of view. The brilliant Harvard professor is only 49 when diagnosed, and her bout with dementia of course shows that no one — successful or not, affluent or not — is immune from disability. The novel also skillfully depicts the mix of courage and self-pity many people feel when their brains or bodies betray them, and shows that family members are not always totally supportive; for instance, Alice’s very upset husband acts rather boorish at times.

The novel I read before Still Alice was Lois Lowry’s compelling young-adult book Gathering BlueThe Giver sequel that stars a girl (Kira) whose deformed leg makes her an outcast in her harsh community. Kira’s skill at embroidery saves her from a certain death she would’ve faced if she had no stand-out skills, but she ends up living a sort of gilded-cage existence.

Also in the YA realm is John Green’s powerful The Fault in Our Stars, which tells the story of a teen girl (Hazel) with thyroid cancer who meets a teen boy (Augustus) with bone cancer that caused him to lose a leg. Their very challenging lives are made better by their romantic relationship — obviously, almost everyone wants love no matter what their condition. But as is often the case with disabilities in literature or real life, we don’t get a “happy ever after.”

Then there are J.K. Rowling’s four terrific Cormoran Strike novels (The Cuckoo’s Calling, etc.) written under the pen name Robert Galbraith. Cormoran is a super-smart private investigator who lost part of a leg while in the British military in Afghanistan, and the resulting pain and walking difficulty often exhausts him. But the charismatic Strike is stoic in the face of all that, and his disability both increases his sympathy for the underdog and the sympathy readers feel for him. Cormoran’s assistant (at first) and business partner (later) — the appealing and admirable investigator Robin Ellacott — has some scars of her own, mainly of a psychological nature.

Dana in Kindred is psychologically stressed though able-bodied in most of Octavia E. Butler’s memorable novel. But then comes the book’s shocking conclusion — with Dana’s new physical disability depicted as both real and symbolic after she had been pulled back and forth several times from 20th-century California to slavery times in America’s pre-Civil War south.

In Richard Russo’s Nobody’s Fool, the late-middle-aged “Sully” drags himself around with a bum knee while still doing very physical blue-collar work and avoiding medical treatment. Yes, some characters with a disability partly have themselves to blame by not taking better care of themselves.

Then there are novels featuring multiple characters with physical issues. (Ms.) Lionel Shriver’s terrific So Much for That has four — including protagonist Shep Knacker’s wife, father, best friend, and best friend’s daughter. There’s lots of humor among the depressing subject matter (which can soften the downbeat-ness of a novel with disability and disease); plenty of understandable rage against America’s money-draining, soul-sapping, for-profit medical system; and an amazing ending I didn’t see coming.

Another novel starring multiple sick or injured characters is Edith Wharton’s riveting Ethan Frome, with its tragic triangle of Ethan, his wife Zeena, and Zeena’s cousin Mattie. Two of those three characters are involved in a horrific (but intentional) accident that leaves them disabled to varying degrees, while the other is sickly (yet perhaps only psychosomatically so).

Going back to another early-20th-century classic, we have medical student Philip in W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage born with a clubfoot that contributes to lowering his self-esteem enough to seek a disastrous relationship with the cold/unaffectionate Mildred.

Last but not least, it almost goes without saying that people — whether fictional or real — are not their disability. The disability is part of who they are, but not all of who they are.

Your favorite novels that fit this topic?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for The latest weekly piece — about an appalling Republican dinner invitation — is here.

80 thoughts on “The Depiction of Disability and Disease in Fiction

  1. Definitely the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Such a constant character as the last chapter showed. Another one I would class is Dun maurier’s The King’s General which I hadn’t actually looked at the blurb for when i started reading it, so it was a huge surprise when not too far in the narrator is thrown from her horse breaks her back and goes how she will never do this or that. It was quite something to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Shehanne! “The King’s General” sounds really compelling — no surprise for almost anything written by Daphne du Maurier. 🙂

      “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is indeed a definite in this category. Visiting the amazing Notre Dame in Paris adds to that novel’s effect. I last saw that building (now sadly in repair mode post-fire) in 2018.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It was heart breaking to see it during and after that fire. It will rise again I am sure. I must reread the King’s General, it is quite a story and Honor, narrates it with no self pity, or bitterness. I was very into Du Maurier and like that I had picked an old copy up in a charity shop, sans cover and blurb. To start with it just read like a predictable story of its day, the rich family, the woman looking back to her youth and her betrothal to the handsome young suitor. That day didn’t turn out so well though.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, heartbreaking. 😦 A building that old and that beautiful…

          Daphne du Maurier almost never fails to surprise. I’ve mentioned this novel before to various people, but one of my favorites of hers is the lesser-known “The House on the Strand,” which has a time-travel theme.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I have pictures of Notre Dame which were not taken yesterday. The House on the Strand seems a different book because of the time travel and yet so many classic Du Maurier elements are there, the setting, the house, the past, the ‘gothic’ bits. (Must read that one again too.)As you say she never fails to surprise. While the books do have certain elements they are anything but formulaic.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Was a short story from the writers own personal experience and then expanded into a Science fiction to a Novel.
    The character of Algernon was inspired by a university dissection class, and the name was inspired by the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne

    In the Novel Charlie had a low IQ so his uncle arranged for him to work in a bakery so Charlie did not have to live in a state institution. To improve himself he enrolled in to a reading and writing classes.
    Then two scientists based on a successful surgery on a mouse Algernon performed the same on Charlie, his IQ was raised to 185.But there was a flaw in the progress Charlie realized that as he slowly regressed to his former self.

    A heartbreaking story was also a movie played brilliantly by Cliff Robertson decades ago as I have seen to movie then.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Also Dave as you have mentioned The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo .
      This bring be back to your days in this website now non existent.
      Remember Ella ?
      As I was writing I suddenly remembered her, a loving kind woman with so much problem in her life, we made close connection with her via email but She never came to your blog, was afraid that bad people would find her.
      She also became close to Cara barker.

      What really happened to her , I wonder.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, bebe! “Flowers for Algernon” is a great addition to this topic, and you provided a terrific summary of that compelling/poignant novel. And it did have an interesting history of starting as a short story.

        I do remember Ella. Yes, a wonderful person dealing with a lot. 😦 I hope she’s doing okay.

        Liked by 1 person

        • When Ella found you she compared herself as the Hunchback of Notre-dame . Later and much later she posted her picture as Ava , a beautiful woman but…
          You and I know about the rest. I still hope she remained connected with Cara 😕

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Looking at this thing from the other end of the telescope: authors with disabilities.

    Off the top of my head:

    Lord Byron: born with a club foot.

    Stephen Crane: died young by way of tuberculosis, as did Robert Louis Stevenson.

    Alexander Pope: a victim of Pott’s disease, a form of tuberculosis that affects the spine.

    Lafcadio Hearn: suffered severe damage to his left eye in boarding school.

    There are, of course, others, but just now these are the examples I recall.

    Liked by 3 people

    • To add to the list of writers with illness/disability: Chekhov contracted TB as a young man and eventually died of it. Bulgakov wrote “Master & Margarita” as he was dying of kidney failure. Dostoevsky had epilepsy–and used that experience to create the character of Prince Myshkin in “The Idiot.” The poet Aleksandr Blok died youngish of a mysterious illness that may have been syphilis.

      And to go back to my beloved Dick Francis, as I mentioned in an earlier post he lost a leg late in life, which may have been the inspiration for his protagonist in “Crossfire,” about a veteran who’s lost a leg in Afghanistan. Much earlier, his wife ended up temporarily bedridden during one of her pregnancies, which inspired him/them (they were a writing team) to create a protagonist (in “Forfeit,” I believe) whose wife is paralyzed and bedridden by polio.

      Most recently of all, a number of contemporary American authors have been stricken down with Lyme disease or something similar, including Amy Tan, Rebecca Wells, and Alice Walker. And Laura Hillendbrand wrote “Seabiscuit” and “Unbroken” while mainly housebound with ME (chronic fatigue syndrome).

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you, jhNY and Elena, for looking at this topic “from the other end of the telescope” and listing numerous writers who’ve dealt with disabilities for all, a lot, or part of their lives.

        To add to your impressive lists, off the top of my head, I can think of John Milton, Booth Tarkington, and Jorge Luis Borges (all three with blindness or near-blindness); and Willa Cather (an inflamed tendon in her hand that hampered her writing in her later years).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Also, I would argue, one might add Gogol to the list of Russians above, though it’s hard to tell how much of his terminal digestive troubles were the result of disease per se, or mental fixation– or both.

        To my original list I wish to add these two:

        Homer and Milton, both blind.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I love reading about memoirs of people who’ve had to live with disabilities or diseases. I think for the most part it’s due to genes or other diseases, but that’s too simplistic especially since there are many children or other relatives who have had difficult diseases/difficulties who’ve suffered through those. I hope I’m not offending you in any way, because that’s not my intent at all. I also feel for those who have gone through grief or suffering. I’ve been talking to my best friend who may be changing from her focus on Veterans to grief and other associated counseling. She’d be wonderful at this new role in her life, especially with all of her experience with grief and especially pets, which she loves with her whole heart!

    Liked by 1 person

        • Sorry about the “Kat Lib” rather than “Kat Lit” result. WordPress (or any blog platform, for that matter) can be “interesting” sometimes. My issue is that when I try to use WP on my iPhone, say, a day after I previously used WP on my phone, I’m automatically signed out — and it’s a little tricky to sign back in. Whereas I’m never signed out on my laptop. Maybe it’s more an iPhone than WP issue? I don’t know.

          I agree that memoirs of people who’ve had to live with disabilities or diseases — and other kinds of suffering and grief — can be compelling. Depressing, inspiring, and a few other adjectives.

          You have an admirable best friend — in her choice of past and possibly future professional focus, and in her love of pets!


          • Yes, she’s great, and I’m sure she’ll do better with a new focus to her practice. She’s such a sensitive soul, especially when it comes to animals. She’s coming up here in May, along with 6 of our other girlfriends that grew up together since first grade. She’s going to spend a few more days with me, and I can’t wait! One of the girlfriends figured that there were 12 girls and 12 boys that grew up in the same development! Many of us grew up with fathers who worked for DuPont; in fact, one of our girlfriends’ fathers invented Kevlar. Wow! My own father invented a few roofing plant improvements way back when. I wish I could say that we all made a lot of money off these things, but alas, no. Which is actually quite OK with me. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            • Great, Kat Lit, that your reunion is happening — and in just a month or so!

              And nice that there were (at least) two inventor parents — yours and your friend’s. It does seem like creative people who invent things while working for large corporations get little or no credit and little or no extra money. Corporations are really rather greedy and heartless.


              • To add insult to injury, my father left the large corporation to run another much smaller one in Minneapolis. The former eventually bought the smaller one, mostly because of my dad, but when he retired at age 75, he wasn’t entitled to a more lucrative pension than before. Very frustrating for us, especially my mom.

                Liked by 1 person

  5. I read Wonder by RJ Palacio aloud to my daughters. My older daughter then reread the book on her own about 12 times. Thank you for reminding me of Gathering Blue. We will have to read that one next. We love books that make us sympathetic to the outcast. Thank you for your post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, SurjotKaur! I’ve yet to read “Wonder,” but saw the excellent movie version a few months ago. Great addition to this topic! And great that your older daughter liked R.J. Palacio’s novel so much!

      “We love books that make us sympathetic to the outcast” — I love that line. Books that do that can possibly influence at least a few readers to be kinder to real-life people who are “different.”


  6. Hi Dave,

    While I was reading your blog this week, I made a few notes as books and characters popped into my head. As I got towards the end of your blog, I was surprised that I hadn’t had to remove any of the books from my notes which I usually do, because you already cover them. Until I got to the very end, and there was “Of Human Bondage” which was top of my notes list. Poor Philip really struggles with the insecurity that his club-foot causes. Though nothing can excuse the absolute obsession that he has with the ridiculously selfish Mildred.

    I recently read Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” which I could not put down. It’s written from the point of view of 15 year old Christopher, who suffers (and boy does he suffer) from Asperger syndrome. It’s a truly delightful book that I found really overwhelming at times. And maybe a little scary, but I also found Christopher very relatable, even though Asperger’s isn’t something that I’ve had to deal with. At least not that I know of…

    Jodi Picoult’s “My Sister’s Keeper” is an insanely emotional tale about a young girl with leukaemia. What that family goes through, and what they put each other through had me balling my eyes out every few pages.

    A friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer in his thirties, which not surprisingly turned his world upside down. What did surprise me is that John is a bit of a literature fan, and also a bit of a writer. It’s funny that that never came up when we worked together. Anyway, he’s now 5 years post bone marrow transplant, and has written a truly wonderful memoir about his journey. I was really lucky to be a kind of guinea pig, and given a draft of John’s book. Such a harrowing, and yet warm and funny book. I truly hope that he gets it published.

    Speaking of real people, I hope you don’t mind me mentioning the tragedy of your daughter’s death from Tay-Sachs disease that was told so beautifully in “Comic (and Column) Confessional”. I was so shocked to learn that you and your wife at the time had gone through such heartbreak. But I do thank you for sharing it. It must have taken tremendous courage.

    Not literature related, but have you heard of the ‘dementia villages’ in Europe? They’re basically nursing villages, but they’re designed to be as ‘real world’ as possible. So all the oldies, who have no idea what year it is, can go to bingo, and have their hair done and have their family visit, and they’re completely safe, and monitored 24-7. I’m so excited that Australia is in the process of building one. Not that I even know anybody with dementia, but it seems such a nice way of giving people back some independence and dignity.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Sue, for your terrific, wide-ranging comment! Glad I only mentioned one novel that you were going to mention. 🙂 Yes, a very weird obsession on Philip’s part in “Of Human Bondage.” The very definition of “WHAT were you thinking?”

      I appreciate the mention and description of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” Various novels featuring characters with Asperger’s or who are on other parts of the autism spectrum are interesting and important.

      “My Sister’s Keeper” is indeed a shocking, eye-opening novel. Mostly well-done, but extremely painful to read.

      I hadn’t heard of “dementia villages.” A VERY humane idea! One scene in “Still Alice” (the novel I opened my blog post with) shows Alice visiting a Alzheimer’s ward she theoretically might soon become a patient in. It wasn’t that bad a place, as those places go, but it was depressing as hell. Not like the “dementia villages” you describe.

      I remember you mentioning your friend’s bout with cancer. So great that he’s doing better, and it would be wonderful if he got his memoir published!

      Last but not least, thank you very much for the mention and kind words about my first daughter and the way I described her life and disease in my memoir. (Looking back, I wonder how I got through that time, but I guess most people find a way to cope.) If I ever wrote a blog post about disease and disability in nonfiction books, it would be a long post indeed.


  7. This is a non-fiction autobiography by Michelle Obama`s book “Becoming ”
    The best selling book in decades. Michelle Robinson was raised by loving parents and an older Brother who was and is still her idol.

    Michelle`s Father, Fraser Robinson III was able to live with multiple sclerosis, maintain a relationship and work while raising a family.
    Fraser was a pump worker for the City of Chicago. He tended the boilers at a water-filtration plant. Mr. Robinson developed multiple sclerosis as a young man. In spite of having this disease, he continued working and according to Michelle, he hardly ever missed a day of work.

    Sometimes had to walk with two canes and never complained .
    He was also active on the political front. Mr. Robinson was a Democratic Precinct Captain. Michelle and her brother, Craig looked up to their dad as their hero. They worked very hard not to disappoint him.

    Fraser Robinson’s children Craig and Michelle wound up at Princeton, his parents funding it with cash from an insurance policy and a credit card.

    But Mr. Robinson never was able to see Michelle marry President Barack Obama and later become the First Lady of United States.

    I urge all to read this amazing book, it is not political at all.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi bebe, thanks for your review of Michele Obama’s recent biography. I think she is magnificent, and I miss her so much, not even to mention her husband. It’s still sitting looking at my bookshelves, but I’m looking forward to read it one of these days, because I do love memoirs.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Hi Kat Lit…the book is so uplifting, I do urge you to read.
        It helped me to understand the couple. I miss President Obama and after reading the book I think it I’d Michelle who helped him to be what he is now.
        She never liked politics, and the first part takes me to my own childhood.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, bebe, for that great addition to this discussion! Michelle Obama’s father sounds like he was an amazing, courageous, hardworking, stoic man. You described him well. And his daughter’s book (which I haven’t read) seems to richly deserve its mega-best-seller status!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Dave … The first “real” (not just for kids) book I ever read (3rd or 4th grade?) was Jane Addams Little Lame Girl by Jean Brown Wagoner. I have met so many people my age who also read that book at about the same time. It was my first introduction to the concept of a child living with a disability … and, of course, Jane Adams’ disability was the catalyst for so many of her accomplishments and contributions to society.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I might use this opportunity to mention “I, Claudius” again (which I just finally finished a couple weeks ago -thanks again for the recommendation, I really enjoyed it) His handicap from birth puts him at a lot of disadvantages, especially in social situations, yet with his deep intellect he rises above them all in the end. “The Lilac Girls” is also a fantastic novel I read last year – it focuses on the women/girls in Ravensbruck that were used in terrible Nazi experiments, and they were handicapped in the legs for the rest of their lives as a result. I also might mention “the Best Years of our Lives” – although it is a movie instead of a book, I always found the story of the soldier who lost his arms to be an incredible (and very moving) storyline. It wasn’t just about adjusting to his handicap, it was about adjusting to civilian life – because in the army, he didn’t stand out with a handicap. He was just the same old guy. It was only when he returned home that he was viewed differently and it definitely pulled at the heart strings. It’s made even better that he was played by an actual WWII vet with that handicap.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, M.B., for that absorbing discussion of two novels and one movie that fit this topic!

      Always happy to see a repeat mention of a book when it fits more than one blog-post topic. It says something about the multidimensional nature of certain novels. 🙂

      I’ve actually never seen “The Best Years of our Lives,” but have heard that role you described was indeed played by a WWII veteran (Harold Russell) who had lost both hands during the war. Then of course there are films in which “able-bodied” actors or actresses play characters with a disability; Tom Cruise in “Born on the Fourth of July” is one of many examples.

      Liked by 2 people

      • There’s also a song that appears on Joan Baez’s live album, “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”, about a WWI soldier coming back home with both of his legs gone, and how his own mother didn’t want to accept him that way. This is a heart-rending song, which is difficult to listen to but important for us to do so, when there are some of us who can deal with this type of disability, but others who still can’t.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thank you, Kat Lit. Yes, very important to listen to a song like that, just as it’s important to read books with similar content. As I mentioned in the blog post, there was some element of that in “Still Alice,” where the husband acted in a very mixed way to Alice’s diagnosis.


          • Another disease was the scarlet fever Beth in “Little Women” came down with from visiting a poor family (altruistically rather than than from self-aggrandizement)). Her death in that novel was the saddest thing I’ve ever read, along with the cancer death in “The Fault in our Stars.” If I read or watch them, I end up sobbing and go through boxes of tissues. I suppose they affect me more because they are both fairly (or unfairly) too young to go so early in their lives.

            I’ve been trying to put together a mini-reunion here in the Poconos for those of us who met in 1st grade and have had several reunions. There’s not the entire group who can come, but I think there should be at least 7 of us. When I first came up with the idea, I sensed that it would be a bit difficult, but I sent them an email and quoted the lyrics from the Tracy Chapman debut album, “If Not Now, Then When,” which several of my friends recognized and love. I’m not sure if you’ve ever listened to the entire recording, but I think it’s a masterpiece, so I’ve been listening to that in between piano works by Helene Grimaud.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Excellent mention of Beth in “Little Woman,” Kat Lit. Yes, the scenes of her dying/death were incredibly sad.

              Such a terrific idea to have that reunion. I hope it happens, and that it’s a great success! I have heard — and love — Tracy Chapman’s “If Not Now” song.

              BTW, I saw the “Still Alice” movie for the first time at a friend’s yesterday. Really depressing but really well done — almost as good as Lisa Genova’s novel — and I thought Julianne Moore’s performance was stunning (and mostly understated).


  10. I highly recommend anything by Allen Eskens, most notably, The Life We Bury

    The inclusion of disabilities are tangential, not central to the story, yet in many way, that makes it all the more powerful.

    From the author’s page:

    To complicate things, Joe’s bi-polar, alcoholic mother has taken up with a low-life who hits Joe’s eighteen-year-old autistic brother. Joe is torn by the guilt of going to college and abandoning his brother. Throughout the novel, Joe has to intercede to protect his brother and is conflicted every time he has to once again leave his brother behind. The power of that guilt weighs heavily upon Joe and will demand a resolution of its own.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Dave, I’m glad that you enjoyed reading “Still Alice,” and I think I mentioned all of Lisa Genova novels are about neurological diseases and disabilities. (Which reminds me that I wanted to buy her latest novel with my B&N gift card earlier this month, but forgot and instead used it for a DVD of a piano recital by Helene Grimaud, my latest favorite musician.) I’m not looking for sympathy, but I’ve had my share of spending way too much time in hospitals and rehab, as well as home nursing. While I’m doing much better now, I still have to use a cane and/or walker to get around. I think I’ve been drawn to books about D&D for a long time, mostly non-fiction and memoirs.

    Well, enough about me, but one of my favorite novels is “Crossing to Safety” by Wallace Stegner. It chronicles a decades long friendship between two married couples, one of which comes from money and the other not. Both the husbands are aspiring tenured professors or writers. Of the two wives, one is crippled from polio and the other one eventually succumbs to cancer. The writing is superb, and though my short summary sounds boring, I can assure you it’s not.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Kat Lit!

      Very glad you recommended “Still Alice.” It’s a gripping novel, and I read it in two sittings. Depressing as hell, but that’s life. 😦 I definitely plan to read more of Lisa Genova at some point.

      Yes, if one has had serious physical challenges, as you have had, one can be especially drawn to novels with characters also dealing with that. (I hope things are relatively okay with you at the moment.) I’ve been very lucky to be (mostly) healthy during my life, but when I read certain books I think of a close relative with mental illness, my late mother’s bout with cancer when she was middle age, and the death of my first daughter from a fatal genetic disorder (she actually died on an April 1 — today’s date).

      And thanks for the mention of “Crossing to Safety” by Wallace Stegner! Sounds really compelling.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I well remember your first daughter’s death from your very compelling memoir mostly about her on April 1st. I don’t remember the year, but I’m definitely bad about remembering dates, even those happening within my own family. If anyone asks me about my parents, especially their deaths, I always have to say that I don’t remember, and have to take it from there. I’ve never had a child, so I can’t even think about how difficult that would be. My worst death was my brother’s suicide in the early 1970’s (see, once again I can’t remember the date or even the year.) The only thing I do remember is that it was sometime around Halloween, so every time that comes around, I hate that time of year.

        Liked by 3 people

        • Thank you, Kat Lit. Her death was in 1990, when she was 3.

          Having a sibling commit suicide is a terrible thing. 😦 And I totally hear you about how unwelcome the (approximate) “anniversary” of something like that is.

          Liked by 2 people

  12. Thanks for another great post, Dave! Something I only realized comparatively recently is that most of Dick Francis’s characters struggle with some kind of temporary or permanent disability in the books. The most obvious example is Sid Halley, who loses his left hand. Several of his characters end up temporarily in crutches or with a walker and have to solve the crime and fight the bad guy in that situation. Some of his books also have important secondary characters who or ill or disabled.

    Speaking of thrillers, I’m currently reading Mark Dawson’s John Milton series, in which the main character is a recovering alcoholic.

    Then there’s George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, which features a number of disabled characters, most notably Tyrion Lannister.

    And in JR Ward’s very racy paranormal romance series The Black Dagger Brotherhood, all the characters deal with some sort of illness or disability, ranging from impaired vision to a missing limb to drug addiction.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Elena!

      You mentioned an impressive number of authors and novels. 🙂 Much appreciated.

      Very interesting that Dick Francis had so many characters with permanent or temporary physical challenges. I don’t remember much disability in the one novel of his I’ve read so far (on your recommendation) — the excellent “Break In,” but that might have been an exception. Though, come to think of it, jockey Kit Fielding did get beat up or fall off his horse a time or two…

      And, yes, George R.R. Martin. I’ve only read the first Song of Ice and Fire book (“A Game of Thrones”), but I’m remembering the boy who was severely injured when pushed from the castle window after seeing something a certain couple didn’t want seen. Drawing a blank on the boy’s name…

      Liked by 2 people

      • “Break In” is somewhat of an exception in that way, since its characters have something like ESP rather than a disability. Kit just suffers the normal aches and pains of being a jockey! A number of the other books have the normally fit, strong hero dealing with a temporary disability while trying to solve the crime, which adds to the excitement. And in “Crossfire,” one of his last books, the protagonist is a British officer who’s lost a foot in Afghanistan. Probably not one of the best overall, but still worth reading for that.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. The novel ‘She’s Come Undone’ by Wally Lamb came to mind with this week’s topic, Dave. Delores, the main character, battles through mental illness, and family dysfunction, coping as best she can (often with food). It’s been a long time since I read it, but I remember Delores with fondness and empathy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Molly! That’s a terrific example of this topic, well described by you! Delores sounds like she goes through a LOT.

      I’ve yet to try Wally Lamb’s work — one of those gaping holes in my reading history that I hope to fill one of these days. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Such a thought-provoking post, and I hadn’t realized there is a sequel to “The Giver,” which I enjoyed reading very much for a children’s literature course I took years ago. I recently enjoyed “A Test of Wills,” by Charles Todd, which is the first book in the Ian Rutledge mystery series about a returning World War I vet who is “shell shocked” and still hears the voice of a dead person from the war. As you could imagine, this makes his job working for Scotland Yard somewhat challenging!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Fascinating recommendations here that I will make a point of following up. Your mention of Stephen King’s novel ‘Misery’ (a favourite of mine) brought to mind another of his novels ‘The Shining’. Jack Torrance is an alcoholic writer who plans on getting down to some serious writing (and working on family issues) during his time as caretaker at The Overlook Hotel during the winter months. Ha, we know from the film it didn’t work out as he planned! I read that King wasn’t happy with the choice of Jack Nicholson playing the lead role. In his novel, the character’s decline is gradual and subtle … King said that Nicholson looks mad to start with! 😂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, ellem63! “Misery” is one of the scariest novels I’ve ever read — among Stephen King’s best. And his “The Shining” is a great example of this topic that you described very well — with some humor, too. 🙂

      Yes, movie versions of novels are often problematic, and I can see what King was saying about Jack Nicholson. Interesting, because King has often been accused of not being subtle as a writer — and there’s truth to that — but I think he can be as subtle as he needs to be at times.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I remember clearly reading Anna Karenina and realizing that she’d been slowly having a mental breakdown for that last 50 pages! I was stunned that I hadn’t caught it.
    I think the best/realistic depictions of disability, physical or mental, is how “normal” it feels for the character. Good writing shows the character’s reality first and then the disability. I think John Green did a good job in this, especially.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Quest Quilts! It can be very powerful when a character is having a mental breakdown in a way subtle enough for the reader to not be clearly aware (at least initially) that the breakdown is happening.

      And, yes, a person — whether fictional or real — is so much more than a disability. “The Fault in Our Star” indeed does that well with its two main characters.

      Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s