Thursday, April 28, 2016

Helen Keller: A Life by Dorothy Herrmann


Rating: WARTY!

I started out liking this biography of the deaf and blind Helen Keller, but as it went on (and on), I started disliking it and gave up about half-way through. The problem wasn't the reader, for a change! Mary Peiffer did a workmanlike - if a bit pedantic - job. The problem was the boring and extensive asides the author insisted upon meandering into just when the actual story I wanted to hear - that of Helen Keller - got interesting.

For example, Helen's closest companion was Annie Sullivan, the controversial woman who brought Helen out of her silent darkness and into the world - almost as a mother births a child - and we hear a lot about Annie here, including the fact that she had a sort of control over Helen's life that only religious cults seem to manage these days. At one point, the author began a chapter talking about the unprecedented event of a deaf and blind woman graduating Radcliffe summa cum laude. Right in the middle of it, she meandered off to talk about Mark Twain, who couldn't be there because he was escorting his wife's coffin back through Italy. Just to mention this would not have been a bad thing. Helen knew Mark Twain, and he had entered the story several times, but instead of merely mentioning it and getting back to the graduation and Helen's story, the author completely subverted her account of the remarkable achievement Helen had managed there, in favor of rambling on in endless detail about Twain.

Whose biography am I reading here?! Now contrast this with the fact that when Annie Sullivan gets married, the entire event gets such short shrift that it may as well not have happened. This was seriously a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment. Get a life, woman - not a death! The author was quite evidently obsessed with Mark Twain. I think she needs a slap upside the head with a langhorn, the little clemens.

This was not the only time she rambled on either, and after a while it really ticked me off. I wanted to hear about Helen, not everyone but Helen. I'd like to visit this remarkable and intriguing person again at some point in the future, but I shall not read another work by Dorothy Herrmann. Next time I'll pick one which Helen Keller wrote herself!

Spoiler alert: Helen dies at the end.


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