I recently read, and loved, this essay by Ann Bauer in which she recounts the story of a roadtrip to Fargo with her teenage son, who has autism. The essay prompted me to buy Bauer's first novel, A Wild Ride Up the Cupboards, which tells the story of a woman who (like Bauer) has three children, the oldest of whom begins developing the symptoms of autism when he is about four years old. In Finding Fargo, Bauer writes that the characters in the novels have similarities to her family, but are not her family. Therein, I believe, lies the problem.
I really wish that Bauer had written a memoir. In one short essay, she captures so many moments that I recognize instantly - despite the fact that my autism journey has just begun and she is the second decade of hers. The novel, however, did not have that same resonance for me. I enjoyed it and it held my attention, but I did not recognize it. There is one plot point in particular - one very critical plot point upon which the novel turns - that simply seems artificial. I believe that Bauer used it as a vehicle to demonstrate the level of desperation that her characters felt; I understand the desperation, but I just think it was the wrong vehicle. On the other hand, I have to consider the possibility that this very artifical-feeling plot point is one that is a direct lift from Bauer's life. I reflect on the times in my own life when I've thought, "if this all happened in a movie I'd think it was far-fetched and unrealistic." Life - and life with autism - can be like that.
Bauer also uses a sub-plot that explores her main character's family history and the potential autism connections that may have been floating in the gene pool. Though both very engaging, the sub-plot and the main plot never quite come together. They continue to float, in search of a connection that is never really made.
Perhaps that makes the novel itself a good metaphor for autism and parenting. We parents, driven by love and consumed with the mission to heal our children and create a safe haven for them in the world, search, seek, dig, divine, suppose, consider, react... and, in the process, travel a good many paths that lead to, as Bauer's character with autism dubs a stretch of road he's travelled, "the Nowhere Place." And - when we're lucky - along the way, there are moments of clarity, moments of insight, moments of magic.