Fear. Disgust. Pity. The cripple evokes our basest human emotions—as does the monster.
Told in lyric fragments, The Backwards Hand traces Matt Lee’s experience living in the United States for more than thirty years with a rare congenital defect. Weaving in historical research and pop culture references, Lee dissects how the disabled body has been conflated with impurity, worthlessness, and evil. His voice swirls amid those of artists, criminals, activists, and philosophers. With a particular focus on horror films, Lee juxtaposes portrayals of fictitious monsters with the real-life atrocities of the Nazi regime and the American eugenics movement. Through examining his struggles with physical and mental health, Lee confronts his own beliefs about monstrosity and searches for atonement as he awaits the birth of his son.
The Backwards Hand interrogates what it means to be a cripple in a predominantly ableist society, deconstructing how perceptions of disability are—and are not—reflected in art and media.
I. The Creature Walks Among Us II. The Disembodied III. Fiend without a Face IV. How to Make a Monster V. The Damned VI. Terror Is a Man VII. The Vengeance of the Flesh VIII. Bigger than Life Acknowledgments Notes Bibliography
MATT LEE is the author of Crisis Actor. His short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in numerous venues online and in print. He has also written and produced work for the stage, including an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. He is a cofounder and editor of the magazine Ligeia. Matt lives in Maryland with his wife and son.
“The Backwards Hand is a book like no other I know. With trancelike lyricism, deep vulnerability, provocative humor, and wide-ranging research, Matt Lee brilliantly complicates commonly held beliefs about disability. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read and recommended this book. I’m obsessed.” —Jeannie Vanasco, author of Things We Didn't Talk about When I Was a Girl
“The Backwards Hand is a striking meditation on the meaning and experience of disability. Utilizing fragmentation and collage, Lee weaves together memoir and research to create an engaging, sharp, and sometimes humorous portrait of the ways he claims his own reality and agency. This book rejects the tropes—overcoming, inspiration, cure—that disability narratives are often forced into and instead, it powerfully pushes against these too-tidy narratives. A richly layered and important work.” — Sonya Huber, author of Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System
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