USEREVIEW 134 (Capsule): Jerry Lewis Told Me I Was Going to Die

Emily Woodworth/ September 20, 2023/ Book Review, Capsule Review

Matthew Del Papa
Jerry Lewis Told Me I Was Going to Die (Latitude 46 Press, 2023)
ISBN 978-1-98898-962-4 | 200 pp | $22.95 CAD | BUY Here


Matthew Del Papa’s debut essay collection from Latitude 46 Press, Jerry Lewis Told Me I Was Going To Die, is filled with dark humour and needed perspective on living with disability. This collection builds momentum through brief pieces that deal with life and disability, covering Del Papa’s experience with spinal muscular atrophy since the 1980s.

The essays vary in depth and breadth, with some centring Del Papa as the primary focus, while others zoom out to provide social context with Del Papa’s experiences serving the role of illustration. Some weightier topics include public transit, health care, the gaping hole in emergency evacuation plans for wheelchair users and media representations of disabilities. Other pieces focus more tightly on Del Papa’s personal experiences, with anecdotes centred around attending live theatre, trips to the movies, university life and even elevator rides.

Many of the pieces delved into such interesting territory that the only criticism one could offer is that they perhaps ended too soon, leaving tempting tributaries unexplored. Del Papa’s acerbic wit and particular perspective inflect every page, creating a recognizable voice and enjoyable debut.

Recommended excerpt:

The following is from ‘The Ramp to Hell’ (p.113). This excerpt, which opens that essay, really captures Del Papa’s humour and voice, and gives a good sense of the tone of the book.

Being disabled sucks. There’s no getting around that. But using a wheelchair does come with a few perks: no matter where I go, I always have a seat; I save a fortune in footwear, shoes and socks last almost indefinitely; and, so long as the jealous looks don’t get me down, I get all the best parking spots. Above all else, however, living with a disability tends to focus the mind.

Emily Woodworth is a writer, filmmaker and proud descendant of the Karuk Tribe. She grew up in rural Oregon, where she developed a love for nature and the psychological pathologies that permeate small towns. Her work has appeared in EcoTheo Review, Los Suelos, Joyland, No Contact and more. Emily graduated with her MFA from CalArts, and has held fellowships from Oregon Literary Arts and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. In her spare time, she reads nonfiction for Split Lip Magazine. More:

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