Friday, September 23, 2016

Book Review: Where the Light Gets In

By Denise Keliuotis

Most people likely know Kimberly Williams-Paisley from her role as Annie in Father of the Bride and Father of the Bride II. In those films, Williams-Paisley portrayed a young woman from a loving, stable (if not often a bit wacky) family as she married, and then, in the sequel, as she had a baby. Viewers laughed and cried for the two hours or so each movie lasted, perhaps recognizing some of their own family members in the characters, or perhaps wishing their families were more like the Banks. The movies followed the traditional three-act arc to a happy ending, and when the lights rose and the credits rolled and viewers rose from their seats, they did so believing Williams-Paisley’s character and her fictional family all lived happily ever after.

It would be easy to assume such a storybook existence for the vibrant young actress who brought Annie Banks to life; easy to assume that Williams-Paisley’s own family was as loving, as stable, as hilariously quirky as the one on the giant screen. Such an assumption was largely true, for many years. Williams-Paisley grew up with a supportive but somewhat passive father; an encouraging but sometimes demanding mother; and two younger siblings, Jay and Ashley, in New York. Her family wasn’t wealthy, and Williams-Paisley began acting at a young age in part to help pay for private-school tuition. She won a role on her first audition – a commercial – and by the age of 14 was signed with the William Morris Agency. Her star continued to rise when she attended Northwestern University’s prestigious drama program (where she learned of the Father of the Bride audition). Williams-Paisley’s family supported her as she pursued her career; her mother, Linda Williams, even has a brief cameo in the original film as a wedding guest.

Of course, Linda Williams was also a guest at her daughter’s wedding to musician Brad Paisley in late December 2003. Ironically, it was at that wedding where Williams-Paisley first noticed some unusual behavior from her mother: a spate of uncharacteristic moodiness, a struggle to read a Bible passage during the ceremony. Less than a year later, a doctor recommended some neurological testing for Mrs. Williams, and in October of 2005, Linda Williams was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia (PPA), a rare neurological disorder that affects a person’s ability to speak, write, and understand language. Linda Williams was sixty-two years old.

Where the Light Gets In tells the story of Linda Williams’ journey with PPA, and the effects Mrs. Williams’ illness has had on her and on her family. The story is told from Williams-Paisley’s perspective, with great candor and depth. Williams-Paisley’s memoir strikes the perfect balance, offering a compelling mix of explanation and exposition. But, most of all, Williams-Paisley offers an honest, heartfelt tale of what illness can do to a family – even a famous family.

Williams-Paisley could have penned Where the Light Gets In so as to leave readers sad, even heartbroken. But that is not who she is, and she refuses to allow PPA to take such joy from her family, no matter how frustrating, depressing, and hopeless some moments have felt. Instead, Williams-Paisley chose to find the upside of the downside. She writes:

"My mother is not only presenting me an opportunity to love unconditionally, she’s also allowing me to practice being comfortable with what is uncomfortable. To grieve and also embrace what is broken. To know that some days I can receive who my mother is now and some days I struggle with it. To allow that two opposing thoughts may exist in my head at the same time. . . . In accepting our limited wisdom, we allow for infinite possibility."

Where the Lights Gets In is not only a warm, honest tribute to Williams-Paisley’s mother, it is also an inspiration to others dealing with PPA and dementia and similar neurological diseases. It is as moving as any movie Williams-Paisley could film, and it left me knowing that Williams-Paisley will, indeed, live happily ever after, even though that life may not look anything like what she’d ever imagined.

Thanks to Crown Publishing for the book in exchange for an honest review.


Janine said...

Fabulous review! You definitely have me wanting to read this book now.

Denise K. said...

Thanks! I hope you do -- it's really wonderful.