The Tanana Valley State Fair (Faster than a speeding pullet is this year’s pun) started Friday night and we went on Saturday. For me, the Fair is actually more of an “event,” than something I really enjoy. It marks the beginning of our descent into winter and usually also coincides with the rainy season (August) in Fairbanks. I do like the food (grilled corn on the cob, deep fried halibut are my favorites), it’s fun to wander around and see what our community looks like, and sometimes I discover something new like the hardwood charcoal supplier operating out of his garage in North Pole. The reason I don’t entirely enjoy the Fair is that I don’t like crowds. I’m nervous in groups larger than a few people, and at the Fair I really have to concentrate to keep from being overwhelmed by all the people and what they’re all doing. When we got home on Saturday night, I was exhausted.
What does this have to do with Marc Haddon’s debut novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time? The main character is autistic, and in addition to several strange quirks like refusing to eat yellow or brown foods, he is easily overwhelmed by people because he can’t comprehend their emotions or perspective. At one point in the book he’s in a train station, and is unable to read any of the signs because he’s so overwhelmed. It’s a strange, and compelling, voice to narrate a story, and it was easy for me to sympathize with him because of my own introversion.
The book is narrated in his voice, with language like this (from page 56):
Then Ivor did a poo and Mrs. Alexander picked it up with her hand inside a little plastic bag and then she turned the plastic bag inside out and tied a knot int the top so the poo was all sealed up and she didn’t touch the poo with her hands.
There are cool mathematical digressions showing how his deeper understanding of mathematics helps him navigate the minefield of the world he is largely closed off from. (I’m still trying to wrap my head around the solution to the Monty Hall Problem.)
It’s a very effective book that shows a little of what it might be like to see the world in a completely different way, as well as how difficult it is to be a parent to a child like that. The first amazon customer review is written by an autistic: “As an autistic, I have a special interest in reading works that feature autistic main characters, partly to see how neurotypical people thing our brains work, but partly just for the joy I feel when someone ‘gets it right.’ Mark Haddon absolutely ‘got it right’ in this book.” It would be hard to give the book higher praise than that.