John Hendrickson’s Life on Delay: Making Peace With a Stutter is the kind of memoir that educates, endears, impacts and devastates, often simultaneously. A journalist and senior editor at The Atlantic, Hendrickson is best known for his 2019 interview with then-presidential candidate Joe Biden. The resulting piece had little to do with politics. Rather, Hendrickson’s article centered on Biden’s lifelong stutter and its influence on everything from his childhood to public speaking. The perceptible beating heart of the piece is Hendrickson himself, who tackled the subject of Biden’s stutter in a way only someone on the inside could. Hendrickson also speaks with a stutter, one that he deems severe. Life on Delay picks up after Hendrickson’s article went viral, when he was left to tackle media attention focused on the disability he had spent most of his life trying not to think about.
Although the book is predominantly a memoir, covering everything from adolescent bullying to teenage angst, it also includes a wide selection of interviews with other people who stutter. These conversations highlight Hendrickson’s journey from reluctant stuttering icon to a person at peace with himself and his stutter. His writing is unflinching as he depicts the daily life of someone with a disability only 1% of the U.S. population has. Personal yet informative, Life on Delay delves into the internal poeticism of someone who feels perpetually on the fringe while offering tangible advice regarding what to say or not say to someone with a stutter. By combining his own personal narrative with others’ life stories, Hendrickson provides a kaleidoscopic portrait of stutterers’ lived experiences, including creating music and art, facing childhood trauma, having their own “coming out” experiences and accepting disability as a part of their identity.
Life on Delay is not a disability memoir that focuses on trying to find a cure for stuttering, nor does it fall into the category of sentimental, inspirational stories of overcoming impossible odds. Instead, the book promotes a simple message: Obtaining true peace comes from accepting every part of yourself, including the things that bring you shame. It’s a universal message from a voice that has been misunderstood at best, demeaned and diminished at worst, making its impact on the reader all the more profound.