Sunday, August 16, 2015

Below the Radar

I spent a lot of last week reading a friend's novel and writing up commentary for her, which is not really blog fodder, because I would just be teasing you with a book you couldn't run right out and grab.  Also I was traveling.

But I'm still behind, blogwise, so let's see what's in the ole mailbag today.  Oh, here's one I read a few weeks ago that'll be tricky.

Laughing at My Nightmare, by Shane Burcaw, is a memoir that's based on the author's blog.  The author has a condition called spinal muscular atrophy, which is a progressive disease that causes him to be unable to control his muscles.  He's been in a wheelchair since he was a very small child, and he has almost no control over his body. 

Memoirs are so, so tricky to review.  You're not just reviewing a book; you're kind of judging the person, since the author and the narrator and the character are all the same.  Especially a book like this one, where it's not a writerly take on things, using the distance of time and the lens of authorship to separate then-person (character) from now-person (author). 

This is a very readable, likeable book.  Shane is really funny, and he is very frank about a lot of things while maintaining an upbeat attitude.  He's really likeable like that--the bantering between him and his brother, the jokes about his personal care routines, his clear affection and love for his friends while also discussing quite frankly that making friends is a survival skill for him, since he can't do anything for himself.  He's funny, and fun, and he even lets you see where his positive attitude is natural and where he cultivates it because there aren't a lot of other good options.  This is actually really healthy, and I found it touching and even personally helpful to read.

This kind of honesty, though, had a down side.  Shane grew up as a special ed kid, and as someone who a lot of people assume on sight is mentally handicapped.  You can't blame him for hating this, hating to be talked down to or ignored or treated like he's anything but the funny, intelligent person he is.  But in discussing this frustration, he's sometimes really mean about the mentally handicapped. 

He always puts out the "hey, I'm sure they're very nice people and it's not their fault and I don't want to be mean, but" in he name of truth, they all kind of smell like poop.  And are gross and inappropriate and he really wishes he didn't have to be around them so much.  I mean, you can totally sympathize when he's at a special needs camp or in a gym class where he's the odd man out.  But he's actually pretty disrespectful, and there's a point where he basically points out that he's never met anyone in a wheelchair he gets along with.  At camp, he hung out with the counselors, aka the cool kids.

Anyway, I found that a bit offputting.  I've worked with autistic kids, and I know he's right; if I was put into a group of autistic people and treated as though this should be adequate socialization--especially in middle school!--I would probably have felt the same way.  But again, the lack of writerly distance hurts a bit there; the sense that the middle school kid who felt that way hasn't grown up to be someone with more perspective, but rather someone who knows he's not supposed to say those things. 

So yes, very readable, very funny in a lot of places, but the voice put me off a bit in places.  But I will say, his ideas and examples of how he maintains a positive attitude in the face of a really hard and scary medical condition that controls so much of his life--that was an important and valuable take away for me.

And, because I don't use this word often enough in my blog, I'll repeat it here: poop.  Poop!

(Sorry, it's late.  Good night!)

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