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Review: From the Ground Up by Christopher W. Siders

A callow young hotshot gets taken down more than a few pegs in this caustic, darkly humorous tale of the travails—and unlikely consolations—of traumatic brain injury.

Matt Riggs, a 29-year-old sportswriter in Jacksonville, Fla., has everything he wants: good looks, a beautiful girlfriend named Amanda, a manipulative way with words and a super-sized ego that keeps him focused on the one thing that matters—himself. Then a car crash puts him in a coma. When he awakens, he lacks the coordination to blink and swallow, let alone walk, talk or bathe; it’s anyone’s guess when or if he’ll regain the use of his body or the ability to marshal his cloudy, scattered thoughts. As Matt claws his way toward an uncertain recovery, his story, based on the author’s real-life experience of brain injury, is as gnarled as his recalcitrant limbs, with human frailties and awkward emotional clashes on all sides. Amanda, appalled at the prospect of caring for a virtual infant with a stroke-victim’s sneer instead of the swaggering stud she hoped to marry, drifts away toward another man. Matt’s estranged father takes him home, but a lifetime’s resentments have them perpetually at each other’s throats. Matt wallows in self-pity and feelings of betrayal directed, above all, at his body as he struggles to relearn the most basic physical tasks. Yet as he pines for his vanished strength and social grace, he also starts to understand how glib and insensitive his old life was and realizes that, ravaged as he is, he can now feel “an immense pleasure to be alive” that he never knew before. Siders writes with an energetic, evocative style, and brilliantly captures Matt’s voice: smart, sarcastic, funny and pissed-off, and ruefully aware amid his put-upon brooding of his own shortcomings and screw-ups. By avoiding fake sentiment and uplift, Siders makes his astringent rendering of Matt’s painful self-recovery all the more resonant.

A wry, moving portrait of a man trying to get his head straight.

Copyright 2011 Kirkus Media LLC. Used with permission. Not for republication in any manner.