Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue - Sally Mandel When I saw this was about a 29 year old woman who was an avid athlete before being diagnosed 5 years prior with a disabling disease, I had to read it. After all, that’s exactly how you can describe me, although I don’t have MS, like the heroine. I have another neurological disorder, one that’s better in some ways and worse in others. With that in mind, this is an extremely difficult book for me to dissect fairly. Because the heroine’s situation is so similar to mine, I was infuriated with her behavior, since that’s now how I’d have gone about things at all. However, fair or unfair, I will pick it apart anyway.Anna Bolles was a gifted athlete and enthusiastic teacher until her life was turned upside down by a diagnosis of relapse-remitting multiple sclerosis 5 years ago. As the book opens, she has settled comfortably, if a bit regretfully, into the new patterns of her life. In the midst of a relapse which has her wheelchair-bound, she visits a gallery having a photography exhibit. While viewing a particularly emotional photo of a fog-enshrouded bridge, she meets Joe Malone, a pilot, businessman and amateur photographer. Over coffee and a conversation about art an attraction blooms. An attraction Anna vows to fight, since having MS has prompted her to slam shut the door labeled “normal romantic life.” Joe, however, is not at all interested in taking no for an answer.In some ways, I really liked how Anna’s disability was handled. Mandel pulls no punches, delving into the nitty-gritty, messy and completely unglamorous effects of MS. The first half of the book made a lot of sense to me. Anna handles her life without any “why me,” tackling her reality matter-of-factly. She gets up, does her exercises, goes to work and generally just gets on with it.I really enjoyed her no-nonsense mother with the potty mouth. She was the perfect foil to mild-mannered Anna. She pushes Anna without being overbearing or manipulative. Her brash tone cuts through the bullshit Anna weaves about herself. I was laughing out loud at their conversations at times. However, a bit more than halfway through I wanted to scream. Anna falls in the street, can’t get up under her own power, and has a revelation – she can have no future with Joe, or any other man, because she will be an embarrassing burden.I understand books require conflict, but holy hell can I never see this particular conflict again?I know the able-bodied thinks disability is the worst thing ever, but guess what – it isn’t. Yes you miss skiing and golf and sitting in the bleachers at Fenway, but you adjust. We do not walk around feeling unworthy of love or that we’re lesser beings. I am sick to freaking death of this trope where the disabled person feels unworthy or guilty. What are authors trying to say? Should the disabled feel guilty for accepting help? Isn’t it a bit patronizing for the disabled person to decide what the able-bodied partner wants? How is watching someone give up supposed to be heroic?Maybe I’m looking at this wrong. Perhaps Mandel intended for Anna’s rejection of Joe’s love to be idiotic and irrational. I didn’t see it as noble sacrifice, if that was the intent, I saw it as depressing capitulation.In the end, Anna redeems herself a bit in my eyes. She stops relying so much on her mother, swallows her pride a bit, begins to accept that she’s a cripple for life and she has to get on with it. I had a bit of a hard time accepting the HEA, but Joe is enough of a straight-shooter that I can see him putting the kibosh on any attempts at self-delusion in Anna’s future.I’m not sure this is strictly a romance. It’s told in the first-person and the sex is 98% closed door. It is more women’s fiction with a strong romantic plot. Anna’s character growth is the main event, not the romance.As a whole, Out of the Blue is a well-written exploration of living with MS. I only wish Anna were portrayed as less of a wimp. I couldn’t help but take it all personally.