Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Speed of Dark

The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon, is written from the perspective of an autistic man named Lou.  It takes place in the not-too-distant future, where autism has largely been "cured", and he and some other highly-functioning autistic folks work in an office that has been engineered to meet their specific needs and take advantage of their special skills.  Lou is a thoughtful,  accomplished person with a lot of friends and activities, but when the company pressures them to also under-go an autism "cure" they all grabble with the ethics and science of the proposal.  What Lou considers most of all is whether he will be the same person after the experiment as he is before.  So, the book has a Flowers for Algernon quality that I find rather appealing (I've always liked that story).  I should admit that some of the book dragged for me a bit - it felt a bit long at 340 pages (hardcover).  But, the language was beautiful.
I glance around my apartment and think of my own reactions, my need for regularity, my fascination with repeating phenomena, with series and patterns. Everyone needs some regularity; everyone enjoys series and patterns to some degree. I have known that for years, but now I understand it better.   We autistics are at one end of an arc of human behavior and preference, but we are connected. 
I'm going to lay down some spoilers here... don't read if you don't want to know what happens.


I'm serious...


OK, so, Lou decides to have the operation, way, way near the end of the book - and it's very powerful - for a while he's in a haze, and then he has to relearn everything - walking, talking, etc.  And, it's fairly heart-wrenching, because one becomes quite attached to Lou, and then it's like, Oh great, everything's gone to shit!  But, he relearns very quickly and then one of his friends, who happens to be non-autistic, comes to visit him, but you can tell from his reaction that Lou is not at all the person he was before.  Structurally, I love how Moon left all of that for literally the last 20 or so pages. Ultimately she  illustrates how conditions like autism create merely an aspect of the whole person, and that aspect is certainly not portrayed as a disability - at least anymore than most people are effected by distractions and interruptions (which is why I put the word "cured" above in quotations).  This book has a lot in common with the excellent The Colony, which I read recently - and would recommend both to anyone interested in narratives about the experience of people with disabilities.  Also, if you're interested in more  on the subject, there's a great writer over at Tiger Beatdown - s.e. smith.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


My review for Sadie Smith's new book - NW - is in the latest copy Newcity and available online.  I really liked it, although, I hate to tell you, not as much as White Teeth or On Beauty.  One thing I didn't mention in my review is that there is a repeated image of the fox in the city, which, without putting too fine a point on it, serves as kind of a reminder of the "wild" or "nature" finding and forcing its way into the environs of the city.  
I'm into foxes myself this year because there's a family of foxes on the campus where I work, and every once in a while, if you're lucky, you'll see one taking a nap or, you know, killing a rabbit.  I've never seen a fox in my life before, then, suddenly, it's like Wild Kingdom out there.  They're beautiful little animals and I'm mildly obsessed.  

Here's one of Smith's fox references.  In this bit, Leah's mother has just given her a hard time about not having kids and she's thinking about how all her friends are having children:

The problem seems to be two different conceptions of time. She knows the pull of her animal nature should, by now, be making the decisions. Perhaps she's been a city fox too long. Every new arrival - the announcements seem to come now every day - feels like a terrible betrayal. Why won't everybody stay still? She has forced a stillness in herself, but it has not stopped the world from continuing on.  [...] Leave all this! Let's be outlaws! Sleeping in hedgerows. Following the railway line til it reaches the sea. Waking up with that long black hair in her eyes, in her mouth. Phoning home from fantasy boxes that still take the old 2 pees. We're fine, don't worry. I want to stay still and to keep moving. I want this life and another. Don't look for me!

Sunday, September 09, 2012

I never saw a moor, I never saw the sea

 Have you seen the new photo of Emily Dickinson?  There was only one known photo of her, at 16...

But this one shows her a bit older (left) with her friend Kate Turner (in mourning).

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal

My review of the always amazing Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? on Newcity Lit!

Monday, September 03, 2012

The Fallback Plan

Gack.  So, I've been reading a lot more books on my iPad Kindle app, and mostly I like it, but what really drives me balls is the notes and comments issue.  And also, formatting.  (And also, random text that seems to pop up.  And font irregularities. And, some other stuff too.)  I borrowed The Fallback Plan, by Leigh Stein, from the library, which is a major pain in the ass.  I understand all the weird issues that libraries are trying to iron out with publishers and whatnot, but each time I've borrowed an ebook from the library it's been such a massive P.i.t.A. that it's almost not worth it.  Firstly, for no obvious reason, you inevitably have to wait 2 months for the book to be "available".   I apply quotations merely to illustrate the obvious point that the normal library policies are nothing more than constructs when applied to ebooks, as everyone knows - whatever, I'll play that little game, but I'll also think it's stupid while I'm playing it.  Secondly, none of your notes are saved.  Why? Those are MY notes.  I received an annoying note that if I BUY the book, my notes will be returned?  BUY IT?  After I went to all the damn trouble in the first place of BORROWING it?  No.

Anyway, I highlighted a bunch of stuff and put in some notes, but now that my loan period is over the book has disappeared off my reader and all my notes are gone.  I didn't quite realize that would happen, or else I would have kept my notes elsewhere.  *frowny face*  I'm just annoyed because I don't have my NOTES!  Point of this long story: I'm not done with real books yet.

The Fallback Plan reminded me a lot of Treasure Island!!!, a hilarious book by Sara Levine about a young, well-educated, mostly unemployed woman.  Esther is a directionless recent Northwestern graduate, which was quite amusing to me for various reasons.  It's funny like this:
   "Dad, can I borrow the car tonight?"   "If you put on some pants," he said.   I looked at my legs. I was only wearing the t-shirt I had worn to be the night before. On the front, it had a picture of a gray wolf, standing on a cliff, howling at a full moon. The moon was surrounded by silvery clouds coming out of a ghostlike woman's mouth. This was my so-ugly-it's-awesome shift, but my parents didn't appreciate that, even after I explained it to them.
Eventually Esther gets a baby-sitting gig for a little girl who's parents are experiencing some emotional trauma and it continues to be pretty amusing despite the fact that written dialogue of children is the Most Boring Thing In The World. Ever.  And, eventually, the book becomes slightly more than just about an aimless midwestern college graduate navigating a horrible economy, however... does this all remind you of anything?  It's a lot like Lorrie Moore's absolutely brilliant 2009 A Gate At the Stairs, which is also partly about a directionless recent college grad who's babysitting for an emotionally traumatized family. Where Moore greatly exceeds Levine is in how her story explodes into this meta-narrative about family, race, midwestern-ism and eventually nothing less than Time & Space.  God help me if I'm not a sucker for stories that don't examine our very existence.  

Which is not to say that Stein's book isn't worth your time - I think it is - it's so rare to find a book that actually makes you laugh out loud; I did, several times.  Also, she's only frigging 27 years old, so it's not really fair to compare her to the highly accomplished Lorrie Moore (but, seriously, if you haven't read A Gate at the Stairs, do.)