Thursday, March 22, 2012

Book Review: The Speed of Dark

Sometimes I wonder how normal normal people are, and I wonder that most in the grocery store. In our Daily Life Skills classes, we were taught to make a list and go directly from one aisle to another, checking off items on the list. Our teacher advised us to research prices ahead of time, in the newspaper, rather than compare prices while standing in the aisle. I thought--he told us--that he was teaching us how normal people shop.
But the man who is blocking the aisle ahead of me has not had that lecture. He seems normal, but he is looking at every single jar of spaghetti sauce, comparing prices, reading labels. Beyond him, a short gray-haired woman with thick glasses is trying to peer past him at the same shelves; I think she wants one of the sauces on my side, but he is in the way and she is not willing to bother him. Neither am I.

~The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

A blogger recommended this a few weeks back (I wish I could remember which blogger), so I reserved it at the library with my brand-new library card. It came in about a week ago and I went to get it Tuesday afternoon.

I got back from the library around 3 p.m. was finished with it by 9 p.m. the same day. That's a testament to how absorbing it is.

There were a couple of things that annoyed me at the beginning. First I was annoyed by the fact that Lou was constantly describing people's facial expressions and things like that. Then I realized that the whole point is that he has to think about this stuff, that interpreting body language requires conscious analysis rather than subconscious instinct. If I wrote a book that talked about my own thought processes in that much detail...well, there still wouldn't be much facial expression descriptions because I don't like looking directly at people's faces. But there are other things that work like that for me, and I love that the author SHOWS that.

I also didn't like that the book switched between Lou's perspective and other people's perspectives, because I wanted to hear what Lou thought. I didn't care what the other people thought. After a while this got less annoying simply because I was caught up in the story...and reading so fast I got through the other-people sections pretty quickly. :)

My favorite parts were the times Lou made observations about "normal" people in general, like the quote at the top of this post. They were hilarious and spot-on and made me want to be friends with Lou. In general that was the impression I got from Lou...he isn't exactly like anyone with autism that I know, but he feels totally realistic, like I could meet him walking down the street someday and we would be friends. We wouldn't talk to each other much, but who needs friends who talk? :)

However, I hesitate to recommend this book because the last couple of chapters are so very bad. Not just because they're upsetting or the plot didn't go the way I wanted it to (though both those things are true). As somebody who's been studying the art of writing a novel for a few years now, I can't say that I can craft a perfect ending, but I can say that there are right ways and wrong ways to do the resolution and that was the wrong way. It wasn't satisfying at all. It felt like being cheated, especially since the rest of the novel was so very promising. I'd go on, because seriously, SO disappointing, but I don't want to spoil things for anybody who still wants to read this book.

One-sentence version: Everybody who's human should read at least the first few chapters of this book just to enrich their lives, but if you read all the way to the end don't say I didn't warn you.


Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I read the first chapter and decided in a fit of Lou-like logic that I didn't see any reason to read it.

It was too much "been there, done that" for me, and I'm not even Autistic -- just very decidedly not normal in my own personal way that hasn't stopped me in the long run from learning to get along in Normalland but has left me unable to feel any patriotism living there. But then, the other-person in the first chapter was really in the same predicament as Lou also -- having to deal with somebody with superior authority and greater wits trashing reason, ignoring evidence in favor of his own system of how life, the universe and everything should work, and enforcing double standards; and said other-person wasn't autistic either.

Go figure, Normalland; may I sign up as a conscientious objector and be exempt from reading painful awareness-raising books about my fellow greencard-holders?

Anonymous said...

In case it's not clear, I'm not saying the book's bad -- I'm saying it's too good (in terms of showing things from a fellow non-normal's point of view and all) for me to enjoy.

You know how some soldiers don't like war stories not because they're unrealistic but because they've already been through enough of whatever's realistic in them?