Reading Matters

‘Will and I: A Memoir’ probes mystery of twinship

I picked up an advance reading copy of “Will and I: A Memoir” by Clay Byars, due later this month from Farrar Straus, as I was headed for a haircut. I read it in the parking lot on the way to the salon (and lost my car keys in the parking lot). I read it in the cutting chair. I read it while I searched for my keys. I read it while I waited for the woman who found my keys to return them to Strawberry Hills Shopping Center. I read it at stop lights on the way home, and I finished it in my driveway.

This is the true story of Clay Byar, a twin, who, as an 18-year-old student at the Sewanee School of Letters in Tennessee, was in a near-fatal car wreck. Corrective surgery to repair nerve damage went awry, leading to a stroke, which left him temporarily paralyzed from the eyes down.

Depressed, acutely disabled and despairing, he sits down one night at his computer, “using only the index finger of my right hand,” and writes himself back into a productive and useful life.

The idea of twinship is one that fascinates me. What happened between Will and Clay after Clay’s accident and surgery is told with great clarity. Clay says he came to value Will in a more conscious way, “because thanks to him I had someone in my life who knew me so well, so exactly, that he could see into my inteior self, regardless of what shape my body was in. Because of Will I still felt known. He could see the world through my eyes. This kept me from total despair.”

A visceral, electric memoir.

Dannye: dpowell@charlotteobserver.com

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