Kathleen Brian and James W. Trent Jr.'s new edited volume Phallacies: Historical Intersections of Disability and Masculinity is an ambitious, interdisciplinary exploration of the many interconnections between manhood and disability. Together, the editors and contributors have compiled a book that approaches masculinity and disability with unprecedented nuance. With a great diversity of time periods, geographic locations, and issues presented, the reader is given a sense that the volume seeks not so much to answer overarching questions, but rather that the authors are playing with the complex, puzzling, and sometimes unknowable edges of our categories of "man" and "disabled."

The book consists of fifteen chapters that range in time from ancient to modern and are set everywhere from France to America to Argentina. The disciplinary approaches are similarly diverse, with some chapters written in a traditional historical style while others fall closer to literary or cultural criticism and theory. Unlike many edited volumes that are structured around a central problem or question, this volume is much more loosely organized. The book is broken up into four subsections around the general themes of normality, war, emasculation, and the supercrip. The chapters do occasionally echo one another, such as Kathleen Brian's chapter on suicide clubs and Carolyn Slaughter's discussion of Ernest Hemingway's suicide, or Anna Creadick's description of the invention of "normal" bodies and John Kinder's discussion of the "normal" body in advertising, but despite this organization, the chapters largely stand on their own. Yet, the chapters are united by a curiosity about masculinity and ability, as well as their shared desire to bust open essentialist categories.

The desire to leave behind easy categorization is most apparent in the lack, or rejection perhaps, of a shared definition of disability. Some chapters place physically disabled men firmly at the center of their analysis. For example, the three chapters on disability and warfare focus specifically on the embodied experiences of men during and after war. John Kinder's chapter examines the different ways that the bodies of disabled veterans have been used in advertising, arguing that while advertisements might make disabled men more visible, they ultimately work to reinforce hegemonic masculinity. Beth Linker and Whitney Laemmli unearth the history of men's sexuality in the postwar United States through the lens of paraplegic veterans, and Jessica Meyer examines the anxious experience of male British hospital orderlies during World War I. Each of these chapters centers on physical disability. Anna Creadick's chapter also focuses specifically on the male body, as she explores the medical invention of the "normal" male body in the wake of World War II.

In other chapters, disability appears very differently. The chapter by editor and contributor Kathleen Brian, for instance, teases out the tricky history of Gilded Age suicide clubs, with disability acting as the theoretical framework for the story rather than the central object. Although the chapter does not focus specifically on the embodied experience of a disability, Brian's chapter explores the larger ableist anxieties that created the eugenic impulses that motivated suicide clubs and the media storms that surrounded them. Similarly, a concluding chapter by Carolyn Slaughter about Ernest Hemingway speculates on Hemingway's mental state by discussing his destructive lifestyle, complicated relationships with gender and sexuality, and powerful writing without explicitly naming a disability.

While disability does make up the center of the chapter by Ivy George and James W. Trent Jr., the focus is on tensions between different kinds of disabilities. The chapter recounts the story of John Noxon, who was convicted for murdering his baby son, Laurence, who had Down syndrome. Noxon himself was disabled, having survived war wounds and a bout of polio. Yet, as George and Trent ably explicate, Noxon's disability did not interfere with his performance of middle class, heteronormative masculinity. Baby Laurence, however, undermined Noxon's identity as a successful man, both because his birth implied that Noxon was incapable of producing health children and because his developmental disability was less tolerable than Noxon's own physical disabilities. Ultimately, Noxon was convicted, but his sentence was commuted and he was released after only a short prison stay. This case study demonstrates just how fragile proper masculinity can be, and the lengths that some will go in the desire to protect it.

The book's loose organization and diversity gives it a sense of energy and creativity that for the most part suggests an exciting, growing field of inquiry. Yet, some chapters feel disconnected. For instance, Robert Bogdan's chapter on disabled men's begging cards is essentially a reprint of a chapter from his book Picturing Disability: Beggar, Freak, Citizen, and Other Photographic Rhetoric, published in 2012. The chapter is valuable and interesting, but will likely leave those who have already read Bogdan's work wanting more, and does not feel as exploratory or as fresh as the surrounding chapters.

The volume has a few small errors, such as a reference to the editors by the wrong names in one chapter. Additionally, some of the chapters are highly theoretical – and while this can function to break new ground, it can also make the text more challenging for the reader. However, these issues do not undermine the impact of this compelling, distinctive text.

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Copyright (c) 2018 Sarah Handley-Cousins

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