Sunday, July 26, 2009

TSS - Relative Reads Review - The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

I was given the great fortune of growing up in a family of readers. Both of my parents read, and so do the majority of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. In fact, my Great-Grandma had cataract surgery in her 90's, because she couldn't bear to not be able to read. I thought it would be interesting to read some of the books THEY have discovered and enjoyed over the years, so I asked them to send me some recommendations, and the fun began! I have a list of the titles various family members have suggested on the side of the blog, so if you want to see what will be coming up you can take a peek.

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon (recommended by Aunt Leah)
published 2002
384 pages


In the near future, disease will be a condition of the past. Most genetic defects will be removed at birth; the remaining during infancy. Unfortunately, there will be a generation left behind. For members of that missed generation, small advances will be made. Through various programs, they will be taught to get along in the world despite their differences. They will be made active and contributing members of society. But they will never be normal.

Lou Arrendale is a member of that lost generation, born at the wrong time to reap the awards of medical science. Part of a small group of high-functioning autistic adults, he has a steady job with a pharmaceutical company, a car, friends, and a passion for fencing. Aside from his annual visits to his counselor, he lives a low-key, independent life. He has learned to shake hands and make eye contact. He has taught himself to use "please" and "thank you" and other conventions of conversation because he knows it makes others comfortable. He does his best to be as normal as possible and not to draw attention to himself.

But then his quiet life comes under attack. It starts with an experimental treatment that will reverse the effects of autism in adults. With this treatment Lou would think and act and be just like everyone else. But if he was suddenly free of autism, would he still be himself? Would he still love the same classical music?with its complications and resolutions? Would he still see the same colors and patterns in the world?shades and hues that others cannot see? Most importantly, would he still love Marjory, a woman who may never be able to reciprocate his feelings? Would it be easier for her to return the love of a "normal"?

There are intense pressures coming from the world around him?including an angry supervisor who wants to cut costs by sacrificing the supports necessary to employ autistic workers. Perhaps even more disturbing are the barrage of questions within himself. For Lou must decide if he should submit to a surgery that might completely change the way he views the world . . . and the very essence of who he is.

My thoughts:

I'm not entirely sure I can write a review that will do this book justice. What I'd like to do is gush on and on, and tell you it's one of the best books I've read this year, and go read it go go go!! But that's not terribly productive, so I'll try to compose myself and write something that sounds somewhat intelligent.

I am not autistic, nor do I have close acquaintance with anyone who is, so I don't really know what living inside an autistic brain would be like. I also realize that there is a broad spectrum of autism-related diagnosis, so what one person experiences is not necessarily what another would experience. That said, I'm not sure I remember the last time I read a work of fiction where I believed in the narrator as much as I believe in Lou Arrendale. The author uses his first-person perspective to tell almost the whole story, and she never wavers in his pitch perfect voice. I could see the world through Lou's eyes, and everything he did - every thought process, every action, every wish and dream - was completely logical and true. About halfway through the novel I realized that he made much more sense than the "normals" he interacted with, and by the end of the novel, I didn't want him to have the procedure, because I didn't want his beautiful brain tampered with.

"Autistic persons do not understand these signals; the book says so. I have read the book, so I know what it is I do not understand. What I haven't figured out yet is the range of things they don't understand. The normals. The reals. The ones who have the degrees and sit behind the desks in comfortable chairs. I know some of what she doesn't know. She doesn't know that I can read. She thinks I'm hyperlexic, just parroting the words. The difference between what she calls parroting and what she does when she reads is imperceptible to me...She knows I work on a computer, she knows I went to school, but she has not caught on yet that this is incompatible with her belief that I am actually illiterate and barely verbal.

She talks to me as if I were a rather stupid child. She does not like it when I use big words (as she calls them) and she tells me to just say what I mean. What I mean is the speed of dark is as interesting as the speed of light, and maybe it is faster and who will find out?"

Moon tackles some hefty issues in this novel, most specifically who gets to decide what is normal? Why does one person's normal become superior to another? If we truly love someone, why should we want them to change? If we are all made in God's image, would changing be the right thing to do? She asks these questions, but doesn't present easy, trite answers - the reader is left to draw their own conclusions, and I would bet you'll be thinking about them long after you've turned the final page.

"What I have in my head is light and dark and gravity and space and swords and groceries and colors and numbers and people and patterns so beautiful I get shivers all over. I still do not know why I have those patterns and not others. The book answers questions other people have thought of. I have thought of questions they have not answered. I always thought my questions were wrong questions because no one else asked them. Maybe no one thought of them. Maybe darkness got there first. Maybe I am the first light touching a gulf of ignorance. Maybe my questions matter."

I loved this book. I didn't want it to end. I know it will be a book I will read again, and that's pretty rare. If you haven't read it, I think you should. GO GO GO!!!

Finished: 7/5/09
Source: Franklin Avenue library
Rating: 10/10

Don't just take my word for it! Here's what another fabulous blogger had to say:


This book counts toward:


Table Talk said...

While there have been a number of books recently written from the point of view of someone with Asperger's Syndrome, it's less usual to find one from the perspective of a character with autism. This certainly sounds well worth a read, especially as I have a young friend who has the condition. I'm off to see if our library has a copy right now. Thank your Aunt Leah for me.

Melissa said...

Wow ... this has just jumped very, very high on my TBR list. My son has Aspergers, which is a form of autism, and while I'd imagine The Speed of Dark might hit a bit close to home, I'm really eager to read this one.

I love your idea of the Relative Reads series, BTW!

Gavin said...

What a great idea, asking loved ones for their favorite reads. I also like the way your keeping track of the books added to your TBR list by blogging buddies.

Wonderful review of Speed of the Dark. I read it a couple of years ago and loved it.

Cath said...

What a great idea and now I have to read this book. THANKS so much for the review!

Zibilee said...

This sounds like an incredible book that had a lot of different layers to it. I am going to put this on the very top of my wish list, and hopefully I can get my hands on a copy soon. Great review!