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Slow Dance: A Story of Stroke, Love, and Discovery

by Bonnie Sherr Klein and Persimmon Blackbridge

As with her documentary films – Not A Love Story, for instance – Bonnie Sherr Klein’s memoir, Slow Dance, is a collaborative effort that speaks to the transforming power of community.

Written with novelist Persimmon Blackbridge, Klein’s candid account of her life-altering stroke and its aftermath is intercut with other voices: personal statements from her family, friends, and National Film Board colleagues, as well as excerpts from medical reports, hospital logs, and Klein’s own diaries of the period. The result is not a Rashomon-like tale of warring perspectives, but an intensive and multifaceted view of how catastrophic illness may shatter lives but can also cause us to recombine the fragments in new and wholly unexpected ways.

What began as nausea on a summer’s day in 1987 became a series of disabling strokes from a bleeding vascular tumour in Bonnie Sherr Klein’s brain. She required a rare and high-risk surgery to save her life. And although we are made aware from the first pages that Klein has lived to tell this story, the details of her worst moments in the hospital lends an unavoidable primal darkness to the otherwise optimistic, pragmatic survival story. The terrifying image of a woman lying paralyzed and fetal in a hospital bed – choking with each swallow, unable to escape vivid nightmares, or express her pain and rage – unavoidably haunts this work. Still, even these bleakest moments have purpose, in making outsiders recognize what all such patients must experience, especially those who are elderly, poor, or alone.

Klein expresses concern that her story will be perceived as yet another movie-of-the-week style episode in the “triumph over tragedy” genre. But the work is far too blunt and raw for that: Klein and her chorus of voices consider such untelegenic topics as innaccurate bedpan use, post-stroke marital crises, and the effects of a brain-altered mother on the teenage love life. Now an activist and chronicler of life with a disability, Klein considers her strokes to have been simple acts of fate. She and the voices that tell her story refuse to either sanitize or romanticize their common experience. As a result, Slow Dance tells a tough but hopeful story that sounds very much like the truth.