It’s a tale we see time and time again: a man with left-side paralysis joins a self-help group for people with disabilities, and finds himself falling for a woman dealing with multiple sclerosis. Okay, wait, I may have exaggerated by about 1,000% what we do see of such fictional portrayals. But with Robert Rudney’s Lovers Lame, there’s one solid story about people with disabilities being all human and stuff — and it’s by someone with a disability. See my interview with Rudney, a defense specialist and former head of an employment self-help group for people with disabilities, below:
Maybe you weren’t conscious of it at the time, but when you were writing Lovers Lame were there any mainstream books or authors that made you think there was space on that shelf for what you wanted to do?
There has been no disability novel written by an individual with a real disability. Temporarily able-bodied authors like Jodi Picoult make an effort in books like House Rules. But no one has caught how it feels from the inside to have a disability and how difficult it is to form intimate relationships with other human beings. That’s why I wrote Lovers Lame.
I once heard the sentiment that the reality of society is marginalized people remain marginalized. What makes it particularly significant is that it’s the only time I can recall hearing that from a person whom was also pretty liberal. As someone who ran a networking group for the physically disabled, do you think there’s truth to that?
Lots of surveys these days show an increasingly inequitable distribution of wealth. People with disabilities are caught in the downward spiral because they are forced to depend on entitlements like SSDI, SSI, Medicare and Medicaid that entrap them in genteel poverty. That was the case for a lot of individuals in my networking group. Many couldn’t take a job because they couldn’t risk losing Medicare or Medicaid, and employer health plans (if they existed) were not sufficient for their health needs.
The employment conundrum is a key sub-theme of Lovers Lame.
Have experiences that come just because you’re physically disabled made you empathize with other marginalized people? Or do you find that there are divisions between you and people whom have similar experiences from different vantage points?
I have been pitied and over-accommodated and advertised as a “poster child” for people with disabilities. However, I was able to transcend my disability and make it up the career ladder with little or no assistance from legal protections like the ADA. I was one of a small minority in this respect. Every disability is different and has its own unique vantage point. The difficulties in communicating among people with disabilities is another key sub-theme of Lovers Lame. The narrator, David, has something close to cerebral palsy and falls hopelessly in love with Jessica, a tempestuous artist with multiple sclerosis. Their failure to communicate is one of the driving forces of the novel.
Every disability is different and has its own unique vantage point. The difficulties in communicating among people with disabilities is another key sub-theme of Lovers Lame.
I think, with mainstream culture being what it is, there’s a strange dichotomy between normalcy and having to come to terms with the fact that a certain amount of what is good syncs up with looking a certain way, with taking certain roads home. David, the narrator of your book, seems like a guy who carries a certain weight with him in this regard. A quick glance at the guy in certain situations and he may look ordinary enough, but anything beyond that, and his left-side paralysis doesn’t make for someone who looks normal. As he is initially in your book, he seems introverted and closed off, even to himself somewhat.
Yes, we have a packaged, programmed view of what people should look like, what is accepted to be ‘normal.’ In Lovers Lame, David draws a sharp distinction between his condition and that of his brother Ted, an able-bodied athlete, affluent businessman, happily married.
At times, David (like me) tries to hide his disability and usually fails. Too many experiences like this induce a heavy dose of introspection and introversion, both in fictional characters (David) and ‘real life’ (Bob Rudney).
With how rare they are in general, have typical portrayals of people with disabilities been something that you’ve found alienating?
All those condescending poster-children portrayals drive me up the wall. In the immortal words of Ed Roberts, the pioneering disability activist: “Piss on pity.”
Thanks to Robert for his time. Find out more about him and his novel at these links: