Tuesday, January 31, 2006

After reading Elizabeth Moon's "The Speed of Dark"

*NOTE* If you haven't read this book and you don't like to have the story 'spoiled' by information about the ending, do not read further.

I found this novel unsettling and I've spent the better part of the past several days trying to pinpoint why.

I think Ms. Moon did an excellent job in portraying the inner life and thoughts/perceptions of an individual on the autism spectrum. There was a clear sense of respect for the lived experience of autism. The main character, Lou, is portrayed as a full human being who grows and changes over the course of the story. In fact, I strongly identified with many of Lou's experiences and personality traits. There were many times in the story arc where I found myself nodding or smiling, having felt similarly in past real life situations.

I saw Lou as a strong protagonist and cheered for him as his life became enriched by the challenges he surmounted. He was not portrayed as a victim, but as a powerful self-advocate.

And then Ms. Moon chooses to end the novel with the 'deux ex machina' of medical treatment for autism and in a scant few chapters, negates the value of all of Lou's hard earned victories. He, in fact, becomes 'other' than Lou, and loses interest in all the people and things that once were the cornerstones of his life. In fact, one of the reasons Lou persues this treatment is to have a chance at what he sees as a normal relationship with a neuro-typical woman. When he sees her for the first time after his treatment, he says he feels nothing for her.

I found this terribly ironic and incredibly distressing.

As I was reading the book, I also wondered if a neuro-typical reader would find this distressing, but in other ways. Would that reader find the first 3/4ths of the book--in which we primarily see the world through Lou's first person perspective--distressing? Could they accept Lou's logic, his perseverations, his non-linear thinking? Or would they slog though that, then sigh with relief at the ending where Lou becomes a neruo-typical narrator?

I welcome your thoughts.


mommyguilt said...

I will check it out. I thought I'd only read part of the post and skip the part about the ending until I'd read the book, but you drew me in. Having 2NT kids and one Aspie, and being NT myself, I think I'll go out, find the book and let you know what I think of it - to see if you and I agree on the ending.

Brett said...

I just finished reading "The Speed of Dark". Incredible book (from the perspective of an introverted NT parent of an autistic teenager). I have to say I don't share your disappointment in Lou's decision, mainly because it was a well thought out decision on his part, with full awareness of the potential consequences. I also didn't see his hope for a relationship with a "normal" girl as his main motivation; it was his desire to continue to grow beyond the constraints imposed on him by society - not his autism - that I saw as his main motivation.

Especially telling is the scene towards the end where Lou-after asks himself, "What the hell was Lou-before thinking when he volunteered for this?"

What I appreciated most about the ending was the fact that Moon didn't seem to be saying that Lou-after was "better", just that he was different. We all change as we grow, this was just a bit more drastic of a change than most people experience.