Monday, August 21, 2006

Daniel Isn't Talking

I just finished reading Marti Leimbach's novel Daniel Isn't Talking, a book about a woman whose young son is diagnosed with autism.

Not a book about autism; a book about a woman.

Autism is an important character in this novel, but it plays a supporting role. Autism is the device upon which the plot turns. The star of the novel is Melanie, mother of two, whose husband, unable to deal with the reality of having and raising an "imperfect" son, walks out on his family and moves in with his ex-girlfriend. Leimbach's writing is rich and full; she creates in Melanie a character with intelligence, wit, and limitless strength, full of flaws, insecurities and fearful desperation. Melanie and I are both autism mothers, but I did not see myself in her; our lives, our families, our sons, our perspectives are different. But I did see her, very clearly - enough to wish that she weren't a fictional character so that she could be my friend.

Daniel, too, is a supporting character, though without doubt the most endearing one in the book. I fell in love with him during a scene in which he visits a shoe store with his mother, covets a pair of little girls' party shoes with sparkling buckles, and encounters a saleswoman who insists that the shoes with buckles are for girls. Only girls. Leimbach writes,

Along the wall of the shop is a pretty display of pink shelves, interspersed with Barbie logos and pictures of blond dolls. In this decorated world of carnation pink lie the shoes that Daniel wants. He sees this. He understands what the woman is reporting. Language is no longer lost on his ears. And so he goes to the dinosaur display on the boys' side of the shop and removes some of the shoes there, those big greenish-black shoes with heavy treads and prehistoric monsters in holographs on the straps, and takes them to the girls' side. He swaps the dinosaur shoes for the pretty patent-leather pumps with the buckles, the ones he so desperately wants.

"Excuse me, could you do something?" says the saleslady pointedly.

But I am fascinated by what I see before me. How Daniel knows what the trouble is, how he has been separated from his desired object by means of his gender. It seems to him a simple thing to switch the decorations. To make the shoes with the heavy tread and Velcro part of the world of girls and Barbie, and embed the sacred buckled pumps into the masculine surround of dinosaurs and jungle grass.

How can you help but fall in love with this clever boy and his creative attempts at problem-solving? As the scene continues, the saleslady scolds Daniel and reaches to snatch the pumps away from him. He bites her on the hand. Melanie reacts quickly: she buys the shoes and lets him wear them home.

I think that's when I fell in love with her, too.


Anonymous said...

I just started this yesterday, part of my library roundup this summer. Last week I finished Cammie McGovern's Eye Contact, a fantastic book that's a murder mystery with an autism angle. Well worth a read. After Daniel Isn't Talking, I have Send in the Idiots - thanks to you! Long time lurker, first time poster, and immensely grateful to you for your wonderful blog.

MOM-NOS said...

Anonymous, I'm doing the reverse order - Eye Contact is up next. Glad you decided to post - and thanks for your kind words!

mumkeepingsane said...

Wow, that sounds like a great book. I'm going to read it as soon as I can. I'm so glad she bought those shoes.

autiemom said...

This scene from the book reminded me of this song:

Great song.

Daisy said...

I think I'll add this to my reading list! I am proud of the mom for having the courage to buy the shoes, going against the social expectations and the saleslady.

Anonymous said...

Please know that Daniel Isn't Talking is a work of FICTION! So while I enjoyed reading it too, as an Autism mom it was hard to get into it knowing that it wasn't really happening as written, it was just an author's (a very good one tho!) take on Autism.

Kristina Chew said...

Very much agree with your assessment! Like Eye Contact, these are novels written from the mother's point of our blogs!

Wendy said...

Anonymous - DIT is fiction but the author does have a son who is autistic and she based much of the fictional character on her real son. The author gave an interview one time and said something close to: Don't believe that your child at 3 is as good as it's going to get. My son is 3 and I pray every day that he'll start talking. I frequently think of her advice.

I've read DIT and also Send in the Idiots. I want to read Eye Contact but I'm waiting for it to come out in paperback.

Kristen said...

I also heard that Marti Leimbach has an autistic son. So I guess its fiction written from personal experience.

I understand that the book is going to be made into a movie starring Julia Roberts and will be released sometime in 2007 or 2008.

The 4 J's said...

I really enjoyed reading DIT. But I did not like Eye Contact. I thought the author bounced around way too many characters that had nothing to do with anything and I was extremely confused. At the end I thought it was a waste of my time. BUT DIT was so good I read it in one day.


Lyn said...

I read that book ages ago. It kind of frustrated me.