"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Speed of Dark

Title: The Speed of Dark
Author: Elizabeth Moon

This book is nothing short of amazing. It's not perfect, but it drew me in without my really noticing. Lou is a high functioning autist in the near future. Autistics born after a certain time receive sufficient early intervention that enables them to develop their social skills in Moon's evocative novel, but they still are not "normal," and retain the label "disabled." The pharmaceutical company Lou works for receives tax credits for hiring disabled people and gives them a supportive working envirnoment. Lou is living half in the disabled community and half in the normal one in that he fences and has normal friends. He's happy. Until his company wants the autists working there to take a new, experimental treatment that is supposed to cure their autism and make them normal.

Told mostly in the first person from Lou's perspective, the story shows us what it's like to be Lou, to live with confusion regarding normal social interactions, to analyze every ambiguous phrase or action to decide upon the appropriate response, things we normals take for granted. The book's weakness, if it can be called that, is when the pov shifts to other characters. Those third person scenes are needed to further the story because they happen away from Lou. Unfortunately, they came across a bit flat to me, losing the magic that infused Lou's scenes. Still, it's a minor quibble.

Moon's extraordinary tale, while echoing such past books like Flowers for Algernon, explores the nuances of being different, of trying to fit in, of having to decide what would be best in a society that, no matter how enlightened, still views differences as less than normal. Lou's thirst to understand the procedure before trying it, as well as his attraction for a normal woman and his difficulties with someone who is vandalizing his car and forcing him to deal with police and others outside of his everyday existence, slowly change him, adding to his self-awareness and his place in society. Lou doesn't want to be an autist, but he also doesn't want to change, to become someone else. He wants to have a normal life, but will he have to become someone else to have it?

Ultimately, this book is a search for self as well as being an exploration of the place disabled people have in society, how they're treated, and whether or not the disabled should want to change or be "cured." Moon has written an emotionally moving, thoughtful, thought-provoking book. I came to care deeply for Lou. I feel as if I know him well.