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Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum

Last month I wrote a profile of Susan Nussbaum, a longtime Chicago playwright and disability rights activist who'd just released her first book. That she left the theater was a bit of a bummer—it stemmed from her frustration at failing to get her last and, in her view, her best play produced—but she followed it up with a respectable enough second act: Good Kings Bad Kings, a moving, creatively structured novel about a group of disabled kids trapped in a state-run institution. Nussbaum was at the vanguard of Chicago's disability rights movement, which among social justice causes has received especially bad press, disabled people being typically portrayed as creeps, sad sacks, or fonts of inspiration. Nussbaum eviscerates the stereotypes by being, in a word, hilarious—her dark, humanistic humor flies off the page, and I can only imagine what it's like in a theater. The new book features sharply drawn characters dealing the best they can—and they do pretty well—with their lousy environment. Nussbaum might be effecting for herself a second career as badass as the first; here's looking forward to the next book.

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