Book Review: New in Print
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., Sept. 11, 2009
Mean Little deaf Queer: A Memoirby Terry Galloway
Beacon Press, 248 pp., $23.95
Too often, "person with disability" + "memoir" = "Hallmark card of saintly struggle slathered in moral uplift." But the title Mean Little deaf Queer should be clue enough that Terry Galloway, whose hearing loss at age 9 was caused by an antibiotic given to her mother during pregnancy, isn't one to wrap herself in the gauze of noble suffering and sanctimony. She's too blunt, too irreverent, too mistrusting of happy endings, too much a fan of the pratfall and pun, too much the fool (in Shakespeare's sense of the word) to rouge herself up as Helen Keller. (Unless she wanted to spoof her, of course, which she's done in a film parody of The Miracle Worker, "Annie Dearest.") Rather, Galloway portrays herself here as a needy, brash, impetuous sort prone to snap judgments and poor choices. Whether describing how she pretended to drown so as not to lose a race at the Lions Club Camp for Crippled Children or her patronizing attitude toward the participants in her first performance workshop for people with disabilities, Galloway never lets herself off the hook for bad behavior. Her raw honesty, when she could be making a play for our pity, is engaging, especially as leavened by the same piercing wit and slapstick sensibility that made Galloway an early star of Esther's Follies in the late Seventies. She relates tales of that nouveau vaudeville troupe and other stories of Austin back in the day in vibrant detail. Indeed, Galloway was born a storyteller, and her narrative gifts are in full force throughout, spinning yarns about herself and her family that mesmerize: childhood out-of-body visions, a great-grandmother's premonition of death, playing a fervid Falstaff in a hay barn and a frantic Santa (with a pair of gay reindeer) in a mall, a sweet same-sex crush at camp and rampant bed-hopping in college, friends wasting away from AIDS and fellow patients in a psychiatric ward staging a talent show, her beloved father spying in postwar Berlin and dying in the Texas home he built with his hands. In this memoir, Galloway isn't trumpeting her victory over a handicap; she's celebrating lives that touched hers, lives that matter, and life itself, her fierce appetite for which and embrace of are genuinely inspiring.
Terry Galloway will be at the Cactus Cafe (2247 Guadalupe) on Thursday, Sept. 10, at 4pm and at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar Ste. A-105) on Sunday, Sept. 13, at 5pm.