Smile: The Story of a Face by Sarah Ruhl - review by Samantha Ellis

Samantha Ellis

In the Blink of an Eye

Smile: The Story of a Face


The Bodley Head 241pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

The critic John Lahr wrote that ‘as a storyteller’ American playwright Sarah Ruhl ‘marches to Ovid’s drum rather than Aristotle’s’; in her plays, she favours wild transformations over the hero’s journey. Her essays too, including those in her first book, 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write: On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater, have a bold, surreal, wayward energy. So this memoir – about how, after having twins, she was struck by Bell’s palsy – was never going to be a linear, three-act story, with a beginning, a middle and an end.

She calls Smile ‘a story of how I learned to make my way when my body stopped obeying my heart’. She begins with her difficult pregnancy, during which she reads the Twilight novels because ‘the only babies in Twilight are vampires; they’re already dead, that is to say – immortal’. The birth is rocky, the babies are early – and then she realises her face has ‘fallen down. Eyebrow, fallen; eyelid, fallen; lip, fallen, frozen, immovable.’

Bell’s palsy is paralysis caused by damage to the nerves controlling the muscles on one side of

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