Book Review by Edward Shvets
In The Perfect Stutter, author Paul H. Brocklehurst reveals how stuttering throws light on the human condition. He integrates lessons from his personal, often painful, experiences with spiritual and medical theory to gain control over stuttering. Brocklehurst shows, through parable and research alike, that the whole of life is greater than the part of stuttering.
Initially, living with stuttering was the primary source of Brocklehurst’s misfortune, however, it also kept him on a path of persistent learning and self-improvement/discovery. To be sure, Brocklehurst’s stuttering made him endure everything from a “traumatic” (3) French oral exam and failing his interview for secondary school to dealing with “major misunderstandings” (38) in adult life and even a leave of absence and ultimate departure from Medical School (65). Yet these seemingly irrecoverable setbacks actually encouraged him to reevaluate both stuttering and his own desires in life. He discovered Dr. Charles Van Riper’s The Nature of Stuttering (1971), Zen teachings, and Covert Repair Hypothesis. He learned methods for improvement that he would otherwise never have come across. In the end, Brocklehurst went back to university to complete a Speech Therapy degree, which better suited him than medical school, and “changed” his “understanding of Stuttering in such a way that there was no way [he] could still be afraid of it” (242). In essence, Brocklehurst presents a story of revelation and redemption.
Brocklehurst chronicles experiences and beliefs unique to him, but in doing so, foregrounds a principle relevant to all those who stutter. “Had I believed,” he concludes, “that it is normal to produce some minor blocks from time to time throughout adult life…and that such blocks are normally transient and benign, maybe those relapses could have been avoided” (388). In other words, speech resembles life—it can follow a bumpy road but only loses meaning and momentum when someone succumbs to one pitfall along the way and stops moving forward. The “perfect stutter” of the title, therefore, aptly captures Brocklehurst’s life journey, full of bumps yet overflowing with meaning. To the reader who stutters, whatever their background and aspirations, Brocklehurst offers a crucial lesson that took him decades to realize: it’s okay to stutter once in a while and do not let stuttering obstruct a life that can otherwise be very well lived.
From the Fall 2021 Magazine