I used to buy most of the books I read and then it became obvious that unless I could afford a house with a library (empty), there was no room for more. I have always been a library user but now the great majority of books I read are borrowed. Only Love Can Break Your Heart was an impulse choice from the "new" acquisitions shelf. The great thing about selecting a title like this is your biggest commitment is to return it. I don't have to read it because I've invested my hard earned money and own it.
Happily, this coming-of-age story was a good choice and I might have found a new author to watch for. Several things appealed to me about Only Love Can Break Your Heart. It's set in Spencerville, Virginia in 1977, an era I remember, and somehow the tragic, racist history of the deep south seems romantic.
Richard is 8 years old and his half-brother Paul is a cool, car-driving, smoking and drinking teen. The plot unfolds as Paul disappears with the daughter of Brad Culver, scion of one of the old, rich families. Richard's reaction to this betrayal, the uncovering of family secrets, both his and the near-by Culvers create a page-turning plot. There is murder and first, steamy sex with an older woman. The Culver girl and Paul eventually come home but not together and their appearance leads to tragedy. I recommend Only Love Can Break Your Heart and your local library.
Many autism organizations use the puzzle piece as a logo or symbol. Autism is still a puzzle. The information, the science and the treatments are contradictory and as diverse as the victims of the condition, themselves.
In a Different Key traces a history of autism and tells some of the stories of families and individuals who have to deal with this puzzling syndrome. There are records of people who may have been autistic in Europe but the first person in the United States to be identified with autism is Donald Triplett born in Mississippi in 1933. His parents had the resources to seek help for him when it became obvious he was "different." The aid was scarce and the diagnoses confusing. In 1943, Leo Kanner, studied children with autism and it was recognized and named. His theory, (incorrect and harmful) was that "refrigerator mothers" were at the root of the problem. They were cold and distant; they withheld their love to the detriment of their babies who developed autism. This was his theory although autistic families sometimes had several children, raised by the same mother, who were normal. In 1944 Hans Asperger studied the high functioning person with autism and a syndrome was named for him. 1962 saw the rise of autism associations as parents advocated for their children, children who were given no hope; the advice was to forget them and find an institution. They lobbied for school programs and inclusion; they looked for ways to make life better.
In the medical world, autism was viewed as a psychological condition. Skinner-like conditioning had some success in controlling out-of-control and dangerous behaviours but nothing made the patients "normal". Another school of study arose which thought that there was a physical basis to the problem. Evidence was hard to come by. In pre-MRI days, researchers had to depend on parents to donate the brains of autistic children who had met with fatal accidents. When the field of genetics developed the technology, blood was collected from affected families in hopes of finding genetic markers for autism. So far there is no definitive answer.
The different groups even argued about a name for the condition. At present it is known as the autism spectrum disorder and research shows that autistic people have different "wiring" in their brains. Research has not shown why. Vaccines have definitely been exonerated as the culprit and the work of Andrew Wakefield who tried to show they were the cause has been completely discredited.
There has been much made of the "epidemic" of autism. Even that might be media hype .Autisic children are more visible in our schools and communities because they are more accepted and better understood. Strides have been made in designing educational services suited to them and yet the puzzle remains.
In the final chapter of the book, those autistic adults who prefer to call themselves neurodiverse, have begun to advocate for acceptance as individuals who are not seen as 'abnormal'. They, of course, are those high functioning people who are working at interesting and complicated jobs. They are the "Sheldon Coopers" of autism.
By the end of the book, I had learned many things. Admiration for the parents of autistic children and for the affected people, themselves. Everyday is a struggle. I still am not closer to "the answer" of what causes autism and neither is the medical community. Perhaps, for now, a better understanding will make autism a little easier to deal with. The puzzle has pieces missing and those that there are don't fit to make a tidy picture.
Alan Cumming is a Scottish character actor, very talented but not a leading man. He sings, has been in Broadway musicals, and is a Shakespearean actor. I know him best from his ongoing role as Eli Gold in the tv drama, The Good Wife. "Not My Father's Son" is Alan Cumming's story of rejection of and abuse by his father. His life was shaped and twisted by tortured secrets of his past.
Alan's quest to discover why his father hated him enough to beat and continually berate him is launched when he agrees to be a guest on Who Do You Think You Are, a popular tv program that features celebrities and looks into their families to "find out who they are." The program's drama comes from the secrets and surprises that the show uncovers. Not all of the information is happy, of course.
Cumming tells his story by alternating chapter from his childhood with chapters from 2010 when he finds out about his family history. This is a memoir of abuse and family dysfunction, of infidelity and heroism. Not My Father's Son demonstrates how a victim of abuse is shadowed by it always but it also shows the memories and wounds must be dealt with. A book that is hard to read but harder to put down.
The year Craig Davidson's writing career cratered, he was broke, depressed and desperate. He wasn't suited for the menial jobs he interviewed for and didn't get them. One morning, a pamphlet arrived in his mailbox. School bus drivers were needed. He needed money and the hours might mean he could write and re-establish his career. At the interview, he expected to enjoy more rejection but he was hired, passed the training and was assigned to a route. Tentatively, the company offered him a route where he would be responsible for conveying special needs students to school. To their delight (few drivers wanted to take on disabled students), he agreed.
Craig found himself driving a small yellow bus, not the 72 passenger behemoth, he had imagined. His five students had disabilities ranging from severe physical (his cerebral palsy, wheel-chair bound rider) to a non-verbal autistic boy. The route was a fit. Craig got to know the students and with wonderful patience and a burgeoning understanding, they spent a great year together. They learned from each other, they told stories, they laughed.
This is a short book but it is rich in insight. The next time I see a visibly disabled person or someone who isn't "acting normal", I will try to treat that person as I would anyone else. No staring, no avoidance. This is a book not to miss.
I am a huge fan of libraries and borrow most of my books. It's not that I don't like owning books; it's a matter of where to store them. I stumbled upon "Before I Wake" at the Interval Store where you can make donations that go to a women's shelter. "Before I Wake" cost me a whole fifty cents, I think, but provided a couple of days of entertainment and plenty of food for thought.
Robert Wiersema released "Before I Wake" in 2006. The story begins with a parent's most terrible fear. Three year old Sherry tugs her hand out of her mother's, dances into the path of a truck and is struck and horribly injured.
There are secrets revealed, the family destroyed and a sub-plot of mysterious players in an age old battle of good vs. evil. One reviewer described the style as one of cinematic cuts. Each character speaks in the first person and the sections change quickly. The technique certainly works as this part thriller, part morality play and part family drama unfolds.
I am always delighted to find a new author and will seek out more of Robert Wiersema's books. He's Canadian and set "Before I Wake" in Victoria, BC. I don't know why I haven't read anything by him before. And I will keep my eyes open next time I am at the Interval Store. Who knows what treasure of a book I might find?
Mark Lisac's first novel, Where the Bodies Lie, is a who-dun-it which starts with a murder by half-ton truck. Iconic Alberta. Turlock, the murderer, says, "He had the brains of a gopher. That's what you do with gophers-- run 'em over with your truck." It's a bizarre way to kill someone, especially if you are a provincial Cabinet Minister. Turlock is convicted but when Harry Asher, the Premier's old friend investigates Turlock's motive for killing John Apson, ancient secrets and political intrigue lead all the way to the Premier's office.
Asher, a lawyer, recently divorced and a former hockey player, finds himself mired in violence, lies and even a bit of romance. Mark Lisac's experience as a reporter at Alberta's Provincial Legislature gives the story authenticity. His descriptions of the capital, Edmonton, the fictional small town Barnsdale and the countryside are spot on. Even the Wildcat party, the party in opposition,seems real. I enjoyed Mark Lisac's balanced columns when he was a reporter with the Edmonton Journal and I thoroughly enjoyed Where the Bodies Lie. There's plenty of action and more than a little violence. The political insights take you behind the seats of provincial power and reveal a very human story of love, disappointment and betrayal.
I am an avid reader and like to share some of my "finds" with others.