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What to expect

Brought to you by Penguin.

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.

© Saah Ruhl 2022 (P) Penguin Audio 2022

Critics Review

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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’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
  • 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

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