Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Book report

One of the nicest things about our recent vacation was the opportunity to spend some uninterrupted time reading, thanks to the kid-distracting presence in our time-share of two TVs and a Game Cube. (Oh, stop yelling at me. The kids played outside plenty. They went in the pool. They went on go-carts. They walked and swung and slid and bowled and bumper-boated. They also read -- my daughter finished two Magic Tree House books and my son and I knocked off 11 chapters of James and the Giant Peach. So don't begrudge me the rest and relaxation that comes with kids being electronically occupied.) Among the five -- count 'em, five! -- books I finished during the week was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, an offbeat mystery narrated by a 15-year-old autistic boy. I thought the author, who has worked with autistic teens, got the kid down just right, within the bounds of poetic license. I nodded and thought of my own neurologically challenged guy frequently.

I also found it interesting that, despite the fact that the story was told through the rigid and sometimes obsessive point of view of the child, the author managed to sneak in a pretty accurate sense of what it feels like to parent a kid like this. Not that the parents come off all that well -- their considerable and sometimes tragic mistakes are what lurches the main part of the story into action -- but the frustration and helplessness of trying to reach your child and screwing up and trying again and screwing up again and seeing things you thought would help blow up in your face and trying again ... that had me nodding, too. The strain a child with special needs puts on a marriage, the impossibility of having any sort of independent life, the necessity of putting one's self aside and putting one's child first -- all those hard, hard things are rendered with a fair amount of poignancy, considering that the narrator is unable to express emotion. It's a nice feat of writing, in a book that does well by its challenged and challenging protagonist. I'd certainly recommend it, even if you have to prop your own little detective in front of a video game to find the time to read it.

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