Thursday, April 1, 2010

"The Speed of Dark" by Elizabeth Moon

Summary: Lou, a high-functioning autistic adult, works in a special lab of a pharmaceutical company.  When a new boss, Mr. Crenshaw, arrives, Lou and his autistic coworkers learn they will be expected to participate in a new research trial that will "cure" autism.  As Lou confronts fear, hatred, and dishonesty from others, he must decide what he would gain or lose from the treatment.

Musings: I think I would have enjoyed this book more had it not had such strong similarities to other books I've read recently--Flowers for Algernon (about a mentally retarded man being "cured") and especially The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Marcelo in the Real World, both of which are also told in first person narration from the perspective of an autistic person (or, in Marcelo's case, a person with some autistic qualities).  The Speed of Dark, Curious, and Marcelo are all interesting in the way they give the reader insight into the thought processes of the narrator.  Lou's way of thinking seemed quite similar to Marcelo's, in fact.

My knowledge of autism is relatively limited, so I don't know how effectively Moon has crafted a realistic portrayal of autistic life.  However, one of the things Speed does address that I found interesting was the way in which persons with mental disabilities are taught and reminded to act "normal" in ways that "normal" people themselves are not required.  People with disabilities are, in effect, being told to live up to a hyper-normative ideal that doesn't exist in reality.  For instance, I tend to jiggle my leg when sitting, but no one sees that as a sign of illness, whereas in an autistic person the behavior might be condemned as indicating the illness.

The book is set in the future, but it felt very old fashioned to me (the Internet is called the 'net).  The advances in medical technology didn't quite fit together to give me a clear idea of the world Moon has created.

I also need to get one annoyance off my chest.  In the book, Lou "fences."  Throughout the book, he and his club refer to what they do as fencing.  They do not fence.  They dress in period costumes and pretend to be from the Renaissance (most likely they belong to something along the lines of the Society for Creative Anachronisms, although it's never named).  Call it what you want except fencing, which is a modern competitive sport that doesn't involve playing make believe.  I was a competitive fencer for several years, and there are enough misconceptions about our sport without calling Renaissance play-acting fencing.  (My husband was also a fencer, and when I mentioned this to him, he didn't seem to think it was a big deal.  So perhaps it's just me that's feeling protective of my sport.)

People who aren't overly-protective fencers and haven't already read books done from an autistic viewpoint (or are simply interested in reading others) would probably enjoy this book more than I did.

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