As I Am

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Born into a rural Kentucky world of yellow watermelons and roast possum, Patricia Neal soon recognized her dramatic ambitions. Encouraged by a local instructor, she proceeded from Northwestern University to New York City, where she found early success in Lillian Hellman’s play ANOTHER PART OF THE FOREST.

Acclaim led to a contract with Warner Bros. Neal appeared in several comedies, teamed twice with Ronald Reagan. While filming THE FOUNTAINHEAD, she and Gary Cooper fell in love and initiated a lengthy relationship that was doomed to disappointment by Cooper’s marriage and concern for his young daughter.

Shunned by Hollywood for this publicized liaison, Neal returned to Broadway, where she enjoyed further recognition in Hellman’s THE CHILDREN’S HOUR. Deeply longing for a family, Neal married the British short-story writer Roald Dahl. Between pregnancies, she continued to act, winning an Academy Award for her role in HUD.

Tragic events buffeted the marriage. The couple’s young son suffered brain damage from an automobile accident. Complications during measles killed one daughter. Finally, Patricia Neal Dahl suffered a series of strokes that left her altogether incapacitated.

The author underwent years of painful recovery, alternately bullied and cajoled by her imperious husband and reeducated through the ministrations of a woman tutor-therapist. After a marriage of thirty years, Neal lost her husband to another woman and developed a new role as spokeswoman for the physically disabled. The depression and rage that followed her divorce were finally mitigated by a conversion to Roman Catholicism and the motivation to reexamine her past by way of this autobiography.

Relationships with people, some famous, others not, make up the core of Neal’s recollections. Eschewing graphic description, she is nevertheless candid about her sexual experiences, while an underlying self-mortification and guilt, products of her childhood, seem to accompany many memories until the book’s final passages.