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  • Published: 18 January 2022
  • ISBN: 9781847926333
  • Imprint: Bodley Head
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 224
  • RRP: $35.00


The Story of a Face

An extraordinary memoir about what it means to be a writer, a woman and a mother with Bell's Palsy by award-winning playwright

The extraordinary story of one woman's ten-year medical and metaphysical odyssey that brought her physical, creative, emotional, and spiritual healing, by a MacArthur genius and two-time Pulitzer finalist.

With a play opening on Broadway, and every reason to smile, Sarah Ruhl has just survived a high-risk pregnancy when she discovers the left side of her face is completely paralyzed. She is assured that ninety percent of Bell's palsy patients see spontaneous improvement and experience a full recovery... But Sarah is in the unlucky ten percent. And for a woman, wife, mother, and artist working in theatre, the paralysis and the disconnect between the interior and exterior brings significant and specific challenges. So Ruhl begins an intense decade-long search for a cure while simultaneously grappling with the reality of her new face - one that, while recognizably her own - is incapable of accurately communicating feelings or intentions.

In a series of piercing, witty, and lucid meditations, Ruhl chronicles her journey as a patient, wife, mother, and artist. She explores the struggle of a body yearning to match its inner landscape, the pain of postpartum depression, the story of a marriage, being a playwright and working mother to three small children, and the desire for a resilient spiritual life in the face of illness.

Brimming with insight, humility, and levity, Smile is a triumph by one of America's leading playwrights. It is an intimate examination of loss and reconciliation, and above all else, the importance of perseverance and hope in the face of adversity.

  • Published: 18 January 2022
  • ISBN: 9781847926333
  • Imprint: Bodley Head
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 224
  • RRP: $35.00

About the author

Sarah Ruhl

Sarah Ruhl is a playwright and writer of other things. Her fifteen plays include In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play), The Clean House, and Eurydice. She has been a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, a Tony Award nominee, and the recipient of the MacArthur "genius" Fellowship. Her plays have been produced on- and off-Broadway, around the country, internationally, and have been translated into many languages. Her book 100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write was a New YorkTimes Notable Book. Her other books include Letters from Max, with Max Ritvo, and 44 Poems for You. She has received the Steinberg Playwright Award, the Samuel French Award, Feminist Press Under 40 Award, the National Theater Conference Person of the Year Award, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, a Whiting Award, a Lily Award, and a PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award for mid-career playwrights. She teaches at the Yale School of Drama, and she lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Tony Charuvastra, who is a child psychiatrist, and her three children. You can read more about her work at SarahRuhlPlaywright.com

Praise for Smile

She recounts learning to find joy in small things - such as regaining the ability to blink - Ruhl proves that even life at its most mundane can be fascinating. This incredibly inspiring story offers hope where it's least expected

Publisher's Weekly, starred review

Within her chronicle of illness, the author deftly weaves memories of her father; thoughts about motherhood, friendship, writing; and perceptive reflections about the meaning of smiling, especially for women... A captivating, insightful memoir

Kirkus, starred review

With a poet's sharp eye for detail and a playwright's grasp of both the tragic and the absurd, Sarah Ruhl has written a remarkable book. Smile is at once a gripping story and a profound exploration of the mysteries of illness. I know of nothing like it

James Shapiro, author of Shakespeare in a Divided America

I'm now accustomed to Sarah's whipping out profound and necessary books that I can't put down even when I smell dinner burning, but I guess I wasn't prepared for her book about Bell's Palsy to provide some of the most deeply romantic passages about married love I have ever read. I smiled, for sure, but I also swooned and ached and was left with goose-flesh more than once. I adore this book

Mary Louise Parker, New York Times bestselling author of Dear Mr. You

Ravishing ... that rare and gorgeous melding of gemlike, literary insights, raw honesty, heart break and radiant wisdom. It took my breath away. For real

V (formerly Eve Ensler), author of I Am an Emotional Creature, The Vagina Monologues and The Apology

I bet everyone reading this has had difficulty expressing an internal reality. Now imagine an affliction that separates the two physically. With poignancy and power, Smile helps us all to find ways of expressing our internal truth. It helped me to both learn and grow

Gloria Steinem, author of My Life on the Road

Smile is staggeringly great... All of us have disappointments that we try to keep secret because we're ashamed and want to be above them. We are not above them. And Smile speaks to this predicament with extreme insight

Beth Henley, author of Crimes of the Heart

Smile is not just a medical memoir it's the story of a passionate and committed woman trying to forge a life that nourishes her creativity, her children, her health and joy... this book serves as a welcome invitation to worry about it all a little less, and smile a little more

Alice O'Keeffe, Guardian

Extraordinary... smart, quipping, pacy... a practical investigation that explores how, when half your face goes on strike, new ways have to be found to do a smile's work

Kate Kellaway, Observer

Although we come to know Ruhl's courage, intelligence and humour, Smile seems not really a book about Ruhl herself, or Bell's palsy either, but an appeal for some acceptance of what is, for each of us

Sheena Joughin, Times Literary Supplement

The best book I've read in the past year is Smile: The Story of a Face by playwright Sarah Ruhl. She developed Bell's palsy after the birth of her twins, which impaired her ability to smile or show emotion. Her story is intimate and revealing about what it is to smile and what it means when you can't. I am her friend and didn't know the details, and her personal story touched me deeply.

Cynthia Nixon

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