Lou Arrendale is 35, too old to have been given the treatment that autistic toddlers receive, but too young to be gravely dysfunctional. He works with a small group of other autistics on pattern recognition, doing work that normal people cannot do. His employer provides appropriate office accommodation, a gym with special equipment, piped music, individual offices with cheap gadgetry which allows Lou and his colleagues to manage their overstimulation. When Mr Crenshaw, a new executive with an eye for the bottom line, sets about cost-cutting, he targets the autistics. New research offers a cure, a way for them to become normal, able to function in society, to read non-verbal cues and to work without the special devices and concessions that they are currently provided. Crenshaw threatens Lou and his colleagues with termination unless they agree to the program. It’s unethical and unlawful, and it threatens Lou’s entire way of life, but Crenshaw is not the only individual gunning for Lou, targeting him because he is different. But Lou is not a victim, and he is not the moron that some people expect him to be.
Life is confusing for those of us who can process external stimuli in a way that is considered normal. We respond to facial expression and body language on an instinctual level. Lou can’t – every interaction is a struggle, facial expressions all look alike, abstract verbal constructs are confused by false meaning and illogical phrasings, and the randomness of human behaviour offers him little option for pattern recognition and forward projection. But he manages, and he manages well. Ultimately, the decision of whether to be ‘cured’ of his autism is his to make, and he makes the right decision for him. I can’t help but sense the underlying longing that the author must have for her own child (who is autistic), a wish for a cure maybe.
A cure does not change who Lou is, it changes only his ability to perceive the nuances of human interaction and thereby gives freedom from pretense. Until society embraces difference, in all its forms, people such as Lou will long for a cure, a reprieve from trying to be what they are not – an opportunity to be who they were meant to be. It’s unfair, but I applaud Elizabeth Moon for telling it like it is. There is much to be learned from this book, the least of which is an acceptance of diversity – an acceptance of ourselves.
Rating: ***1/2 (out of *****)...Continua