Book Review
Lou Heite
(retrieved from Wayback Machine)

Marty Jezer's much-awaited book is on the brink of publication, if it isn't already on the stands. Marty, of course, is known throughout the stuttering community for his clear, intelligent commentary and searching questions on several discussion lists. Marty is a commited pacifist whose conciliatory tone consistently rises above flame battles which remind this writer of scenes from Star Wars. In his book he has applied his great good humor to the story of his lifelong battle with his severe stutter, and has come out the winner.

From a vantage point of middle-aged mellowness, Marty has taken a clear-eyed look at what it means to be a person who stutters and what impact his speech impediment has had on his life. He is neither vindictive nor maudlin. He makes no attempt to hide his avoidances, his denial, or his embarrassment under a cloak of heroism, and yet the real strength of his honesty shows in his unwillingness to blame any individuals or much of society for the difficulties he has experienced, difficulties which are familiar to us all. Marty is no whiner.

The book begins and ends with a description of Marty's participation in an experiment involving a drug that some hoped would alleviate stuttering. For those who have dreamed of a "fluency pill" -- a regular list topic -- these two chapters alone are worth the price of the book. But there is more, much more, to be learned in retracing Marty's path through the minefield of life with a stutter.

Marty's story underscores the oft-made assertion that the only thing that differentiates those who stutter from the general population is the fact that they stutter. Marty's loving, if somewhat competitive, family, his school, his neighborhood, his college, and his original career goals are a model of American life in the 1950's and 1960's. I would like to have seen a closer look at the effects of Marty's stuttering on the people around him, but the young Marty was a remarkably normal kid and by his own confession didn't think about that any more than he absolutely had to.

There are some wildly funny passages in the book, ones which I think anyone can identify with, whether stutterer or not. The hilarity and pathos of the chapter "An Errant Elbow or an Act of God" is as gripping in its second and third readings as it was when it first appeared in draft on The Stuttering Homepage. And there is a description of a restaurant dinner with his family that made this reader laugh out loud remembering the same kind of conversation around my own parents' table, ten adults and ten monologues only tenuously connected by a most absurd stream-of-consciousness association.

And yet, for all the good humor and, yes, love of life in this book, Marty delineates well the kinds of wrenching doubts and wandering detours that plague the fumbletongued. He holds up a lot of mirrors to others of us who have had to wrestle with the same demon - even though the demon might be smaller and more tractable in its form. It was the little things that grabbed me particularly: Marty's desire to be a funny person, his recitations alone before the mirror and in the shower, a preference in conversation to agree or to summarize rather than to bring up or change topics. The war with the telephone. The desire, indeed, a near compulsion, to write - and the freedom and joy of the written page where words fasten themselves in their ordered rows and meaning is divorced from delivery.

Marty came of age at a time of great turmoil in American society. In the eyes of at least some of us, he took a hero's stand against great injustices and terrible lies. The entire community should be proud that there were stutterers at the vanguard of the Antiwar and Civil Rights movements. Not only Marty, but his friend Paul Johnson, also a person who stutters, were instrumental in the formation of the arguments in the early years of the Protest movement. It was Johnson who introduced Marty to the activist's life and who helped him find his real voice as a journalist and formulator of policy. Their actions at that time have had a lasting effect on the shape of American society.

Marty is sure, and I will second his assertion, that the little and big prejudices which he faced as a stutterer made him especially sensitive to the big and bigger prejudices which spawned the Civil Rights movement. And from there it was only a short step to seeking a fuller liberation of all society, in the Free Speech and the Anti-War movements. That Marty could turn his intensely personal experience of prejudice as a stutterer to society's greater good should stand as a reminder to all of us that no matter how bitterly we perceive our own oppression, there is great freedom to be gained in helping others to achieve their liberation.

I could easily see _Stuttering: A Life Bound Up in Words_ as a topic of organized discussion in self-help and group therapy sessions. Marty touches on almost the whole range of emotion which is likely to both inspire and trouble the person who stutters. He also delineates the process of growth, from denial through depression to something resembling integration. He makes it clear that one can honestly accept the fact of stuttering without having to accept the baggage that attaches to the label "stutterer."

I would especially recommend this book to parents and "significant others" of people who stutter. Marty's candid and unsentimental descriptions of the way his impediment has influenced and been influenced by his feelings, his aspirations, and his dreams should open passages to understanding for those who feel the effect of their loved one's impediment almost as directly as the stutterer him- or herself. This book has the potential to provide talking points for people who are inhibited by shyness and the natural reluctance to bring up a subject that may be painful to someone they are close to.

As a final note, it is interesting to compare _Stuttering: A Life Bound Up in Words_ with Wendell Johnson's little autobiography, _Because I Stutter_, which was made available online within this past week. They make a very interesting back-to-back read, for though about seventy years stands between the two books, the stories are remarkably similar. The basic message is that stuttering, though a dreadful inconvenience and even a torment, is not necessarily a permanent roadblock to a productive, fulfilling, interesting, and ultimately happy life.

added June 15, 2005