Present Imperfect
by Ona Gritz
Poets Wear Prada, 2021
104 pages
Reviewed by Carol Wierzbicki

Before reading Ona Gritz’s Present Imperfect, I didn’t know that the condition of Cerebral Palsy can “bisect” the body, effectively making one side partially functional or not functional at all. In this work, related mostly in diaristic, brief chapters, Gritz explores multiple physical and emotional challenges encountered throughout her life, ones that often seem to be more than one person can handle.

If you are of a certain age (Boomer, like me), you can identify with Gritz’s rites of passage, from the school dance to the first time getting stoned in college to listening to The Monkees with her sister.

Other experiences are more specific to her: two marriages (the second to a partner with a different disability), coping with her own physical limitations while raising her son, and the harrowing experience of losing her sister to a murder.

With her steady, poetic voice and subdued tone, Gritz deftly balances moments of lightness and joy with personal tragedy. The shift from first-person to the “you” voice in the chapter covering her sister’s murder (along with the murder of the sister’s husband and baby) is at first a bit jarring, but it’s appropriate for the content.

Through the 2016 election and the onset of Covid, Gritz explores her own flaws and foibles, even as she calls out “haters” and “trolls.” Again, poetic introspection at work.

I’ve read some literature dealing with disability in years past, was a caregiver to someone close to me with a chronic illness, and published an anthology of friends’ writing dealing with similar challenges (Stories from the Infirmary, now out of print). Gritz’s frank collection of essays is a welcome addition to these, and a teaching moment for anyone wanting to know more about how disability affects daily life.

As she says toward the end of one of her chapters, “Maybe it’s not about the body and its limits. Maybe it’s a destination, everyone hobbling there as best we can.”