As an aging competitive swimmer who’s trying to get herself to Master’s practices regularly and ready herself for a 5K open water swim, I figured that Brad Snyder’s memoir, Fire in My Eyes, would be just the inspiration I needed. I have vague memories of his swimming performance in the London 2012 Paralympic games, and so when this book popped up in an e-mail from NetGalley I was curious to know more.
Overall, this is a solid memoir, written by Snyder and a co-writer, Tom Sileo. It follows Snyder from his youth in Florida where he discovered competitive swimming to the Naval Academy at Annapolis to his deployment in Afghanistan as an officer in EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) to his near fatal encounter with an IED. It was not the blindly (no pun intended) jingoistic text I was nervous about encountering (re: recent Cannonball Reviews of American Sniper), though Snyder’s pride in his work, in the military, and in the United States are clearly stated. Luckily, they’re also explored and explained. I actually found the details of his military training and deployment interesting and it gave me even more respect for those who do this type of dangerous and complicated work.
However, this is not exactly the swimming or recovering from an injury memoir I expected. Snyder’s injury in a bomb blast and his road to recovery take up only the last third of the book, and it felt a bit rushed and underdeveloped. The book’s subtitle focuses on the journey from being blinded to winning gold, and I think this memoir could have been even stronger if Snyder and Sileo had spent a bit more time on that journey. To go from being an officer in charge of an elite squad to someone who can’t easily put toothpaste on a toothbrush is quite a shift. Snyder titles a later chapter “Tap, Advance” and uses this description of how a visually impaired person navigates with his/her cane as a metaphor for his adaptation to his new life-frustratingly slow. It works well as does his discussion in the Afterward about “The Delta”-the shadowy and dangerous space between what you once were and what you now are, where you can easily get lost. There is so much interesting and nuanced thinking in the Afterward that I wished had been explored in the whole back half of the book. Finally, this book made me wonder about product placement in memoirs. The second time I hit a reference to Yankee Candles and the first time Jimmy John’s was mentioned, I felt like I was watching a CW show.
So is this memoir worth reading? Definitely. Snyder’s story is an inspiring one for anyone encountering obstacles in life and a reminder that what you have can be taken away at any moment. Could it have been better? Yes, and it’s a reminder of how tricky good memoirs can be to write and how amazing they are when you read them—when the story and the writing work together to make the sum better than its parts.