Smile: The Story of a Face

S. & S. Oct. 2021. 256p. ISBN 9781982150945. $27. MEMOIR
Pulitzer Prize and Tony–nominated playwright Ruhl (The Clean House) takes readers behind the scenes in this intimate memoir about developing Bell’s palsy, which partially paralyzed her face, after pregnancy complications. Much of the book is about questioning societal expectations for the beauty and expressiveness of a woman’s face. Will Ruhl’s small children understand their mother’s motives? Will the male gaze recategorize her as a difficult or cold woman? Will every act require a double consciousness of how one feels versus how they may be perceived? She narrates a journey of healing and self-acceptance in elegant chapters that evoke a monologue or one-act play, and brings readers into the scene while also giving them a front-row seat to her inner dialogue. Readers will quickly accept Ruhl as she is but also appreciate the journey it takes for Ruhl to accept herself. Family photos throughout add a personal touch.
VERDICT A moving, insightful account that will appeal to many readers, especially those who like memoir. It will particularly engage readers interested in reflections on women in society or self-acceptance, and, of course, fans of Ruhl’s plays.
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