Fringe & Purge Review of The Squeaky Wheel SQUEAKS!

Hip Shot: ‘The Squeaky Wheel SQUEAKS!’
Review by Sophia Bushong · July 17, 2010
Fringe & Purge,

They say: “What if someone walked into surgery and awoke paralyzed-never having been warned of this risk? What if someone not only survived but also endured the horrors of disability with hope and humor? What if that someone traveled, worked, entertained, returned to school, earned a masters degree, a law degree and got married? What if someone wrote a funny and revealing book about it? Someone did.”

Sophia’s take: If I’d known then what I know now… So goes the old saying, and maybe it’s overused. Yet the idea is one worth bearing in mind when structuring any type of narrative, no matter how humorous and admirable the story may be. The life story of Brian Shaughnessy (actor, writer, attorney, quadriplegic), as he tells it, is full of humor and faith, in spite of the fact that the fates have dealt him a marathon test of physical and emotional endurance. After becoming paralyzed at age 24 during a surgery gone wrong and losing his fiancee as a result, Shaughnessy did what I think many of us would – spiral into a deep depression and contemplate suicide. Instead of swallowing a bottle of Valium, he goes back to school and becomes an actor, playwright, world traveler, lawyer, husband and father. “I’m so blessed I should be twins,” he begins, and you believe him.

Shaughnessy is at the peak of his powers when speaking of how his family dealt with his paralysis, especially his father. The strong and reliable father, who cries out his grief and helplessness in a parking lot, alone, is a tragedy many families have seen play out in the face of any number of tests. 

He certainly has the ears and the respect of his audience.

See it if: Personal narratives about the triumph of the human spirit will intrigue you.

Skip it if: You’re looking for solutions.


Character on Wheels

Brian Shaughnessy 1996

By Elizabeth Stice,Honolulu Advertiser
September 11, 2006

One word sums up Brian Shaughnessy: character.

First, because he’s someone many would describe as a “character”: Funny, warm and friendly, he’s an aspiring comedian, with personality to go around.

Like most characters, he also has a great repertoire of true stories guaranteed to amuse almost any audience. Those stories come with a life widely lived: Shaughnessy is an author, actor, aspiring screenwriter, comedian and activist on behalf of people with disabilities.

Shaughnessy, 48, has been a quadriplegic since 1983, but that fact is only one of the many notable things about him. Character isn’t just something Shaughnessy is; it’s also something he has, especially if we associate that trait with fortitude and triumph over circumstances.

You can learn more about him by picking up his book, The Squeaky Wheel: An Unauthorized Autobiography, which he self-published in December 2005. The “squeaky wheel” in the title refers, of course, to his wheelchair, as well as his outspoken style.

He says, “I had done lots of theater stuff, written some plays and a screenplay or two, and I always had a drive to do art. I felt like, well, this might be interesting. I hadn’t written a novel, the subject matter I liked, and I thought I should be OK with it.”

He also wanted to use the book to explain what happened to him, and how he reacted.


Book Review by Rita M. Ippoliti

We all do it. You see someone in a wheelchair waiting for the bus or the paratransit van and you say to yourself, “poor guy.” Pity seems to be your first reaction. You don’t mean to be that way, but in your wildest dreams you cannot imagine life confined to a wheelchair, and you pity the person who has been resigned to that fate.

Then I met Brian Shaughnessy in 2001 at the Maui Writers Conference. He rolled into my retreat group one morning with his partially completed manuscript for The Squeaky Wheel and over the next six days I fell in love not only with his book, but with him.  Sadly, but not surprisingly, he was married.

The Squeaky Wheel is the story of a journey, albeit a horrific one … but one that is taken with courage and more importantly, with humor. When I first picked up The Squeaky Wheel, I remembered the bare manuscript pages I had read some five years before. I enjoyed them then. What I got with the book in today’s version totally floored me. Brian tackles topics that would devastate most normal people … tales of deadly bladder infections (because they get in the bloodstream and KILL "quads" daily) , falls out of his wheelchair, untimely bladder and bowel accidents -- in public areas … and he treats them with humor… almost blithely. As you go through the pages of The Squeaky Wheel, you can readily see how Brian has accomplished so much in the face of so many challenges. You can only do that when your sense of humor is in overdrive.

Brian is an accomplished attorney, playwright, actor, businessman … and the list goes on. His greatest successes were attained after the surgery that left him wheelchair bound. Each one was hard-fought for, as he battled the many afflictions which befall a person who lives his life seated in a motorized wheelchair.

Brian discusses his daily challenges in an almost light-hearted way. He talks about studying his law school texts from a hospital bed as he recuperated from yet another necessary medical procedure or another bout with the pressure sores so commonly suffered by people challenged by the horrors of quadraplegia.

If you've ever said to yourself, “Not me … I’d rather be dead before I’d live in a wheelchair,” you NEED to read this book. Brian said the same thing at first, but then went on to create a life far more accomplished than the one he had before “the chair.” From falling in love and having a fairy-tale wedding on the beach in Hawaii … to tackling the rigors of law school and passing the Hawaii Bar Exam … to a successful practice as an attorney specializing in disability law … Brian allows us the privilege of taking this journey with him, and becoming his friend and confidant.

Reading The Squeaky Wheel has changed me … no doubt about it. I no longer look at someone in a wheelchair in the same way. Now, instead of pity, I have a curiosity to hear their story … and to see if they are surmounting the challenges in their life just like my friend, Brian Shaughnessy.

I would encourage you to read this book. At close to 400 pages, I read the book in two sittings. I just couldn't put it down. The reading may be painful, at times … but you’ll be enriched by a story told with humor, and with a brutal honesty combined with an incredible spirit. Once you finally put it down, you’ll never be the same again. At least I’m not.

Originally published at