Book Review: Sandra Gail Lambert’s “A Certain Loneliness”
by Annette Davis
In her touching memoir of life as a disabled lesbian, Sandra Gail Lambert probes the issue of what quality of life really means. Throughout the series of short essays, Lambert takes the reader on a journey from the author’s childhood, where we learn Lambert is stricken with polio, to an adult struggling to maintain her independence in the face of the disease that wracks her body with pain and limitations. In equal parts, the memoir is a story of self-love and the search for Lambert’s one true love—a life partner.
With fierce determination and unwavering mental strength, Lambert refuses to give up the activities and joys of her life. She describes her love of the water, from her days swimming in a pool as a child to her favorite pastime of kayaking on the Okefenokee Swamp and the Florida Bay in her adult years. Lambert explains all the contortions she goes through just to do daily activities as her body continues to fail her. In a particularly moving scene, she fights to keep close to the water, grappling with how to get in and out of the kayak from her wheelchair without help from others.
As Lambert ages, her physical limitations are explained in colorful detail. Lambert describes the accommodation she makes, from crutches to an electric wheelchair. She gains the reader’s sympathy as she reveals what being disabled truly means: the pain; the need for help to do basic things like bathe and open doors; the doubt, fear, and insecurity about the future. Lambert paints a clear picture of the decline in her health in juxtaposition to her fierce fight to maintain her mobility. With each setback her body inflicts on her, Lambert rebounds with a new strategy for navigating her life.
While surrounded by friends who see beyond Lambert’s limitations, her search for love still leaves her lonely. Her quest for a partner is marred by misunderstanding and misplaced values initially. But as the story advances, Lambert finds solace in single life as exemplified in the moment when she watches the sunrise alone as she paddles through the water. In this moment of joy, the reader knows that hope is not lost.
Lambert has a lyrical quality to her writing, describing the various rivers she navigates in her kayak with a visual crispness, transporting the reader to each place in a sensorial way.
Lambert’s memoir is a triumph of will over illness. She leaves the reader not pitying Lambert for her condition, but marveling at her indomitable spirit.
Annette Davis breathes words like air. A writer, teacher, and MFA candidate, she is also a proud mother to two amazing adults and two crazy cats.