Flawed yet fascinating. Above all, a good conversation starter—and by that I don’t mean “will help you pick up babes on the train”, but that it brings into a very public arena (it’s barely been released and is already super-hyped in the media) a series of questions and debates that have been out there for quite a while, but not in gleaming stacks at the front of the Barnes & Noble. And it does so through a hook that pretty much anyone can relate to: we aren’t all transgender, or deaf, or autistic, but many, many people are parents and everyone is somebody’s child. The overall premise may not really hang together, but it's a good excuse for doing a lot of interesting interviews (though I might have preferred a more Studs Terkel-style approach, with less input from Solomon except at the beginning and end).
Kathryn Schulz has a thoughtful review in New York Magazine (http://www.vulture.com/2012/11/andrew-solomon-far-from-the-tree.html) and I don't have a lot to add except that I’m not quite as won over by the good parts and more annoyed by the grating parts, especially in the chapters on delinquency and on the children of rape. Solomon seems like a genuine sweetheart of a person, as well as an excellent writer, but he is a very rich very white very man, and despite having made far more effort than most people do to understand experiences outside his own, does hang onto some rather racist and sexist attitudes here and there. I’m also not sure whether my problems with these particular chapters are more indicative of Solomon knowing less about these subjects than others, or me knowing somewhat more: I hadn’t really read anything about dwarfism or Deaf culture before, for instance, so I’m easy to impress and unlikely to catch any sour notes.
Overall, though, highly recommended. And since it was passed on to me by a friend who’s enthusiastic to be dealing with it in a professional context, but I don’t think has read the whole thing yet, I’m gloating and biding my time: having had a lengthy argument with said friend and a third party a few years back over whether a hypothetical parent should allow a hypothetical male child to go to a hypothetical nursery school wearing a hypothetical skirt, I’m hoping that Solomon will help me get the last hypothetical word.
(He also managed to do something that doesn’t happen very often: make me feel a twinge of sadness about not having children. Considering that he directly addresses one of my reasons for not having them—that it’s the mother of all crapshoots, whereas after having spent half my life shooting craps I’m curious to experiment with the illusion of control—that’s a big achievement and one for which I’m grateful, because it would be sadder in a way never to feel that twinge.)...Continua