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Written by Marti LeimbachAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Marti Leimbach

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On Sale: May 08, 2007
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-307-38696-0
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autism (34) family (6) divorce (4)
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Melanie Marsh is an American living in London with her British husband, Stephen, and their two young children. The Marshes’ orderly home life is shattered when their son Daniel is given a devastating diagnosis. Resourceful and determined not to acceptt what others, including her husband, say is inevitable, Melanie finds an ally in the idealistic Andy, whose unorthodox ideas may just prove that Daniel is far more “normal” than anyone imagined. Daniel Isn’t Talking is a moving story of a family in crisis, told with warmth, compassion, and humor.

Excerpt

One

My husband saw me at a party and decided he wanted to marry me. That is what he says. I was doing an impression of myself on the back of a motorcycle with my university sweetheart, a young man who loved T. S. Eliot and Harley-Davidsons, and who told me to hang on to him as we swept down Storrow Drive in Boston, the winter wind cutting through our clothes like glass. If I allow myself, I can still remember exactly the warm smell of his leather jacket, how I clung to him, and how in my fear and discomfort I cursed all the way to the ballet.

We sat on the plush red seat cushions and kissed before Baryshnikov came on stage, the whole of his powerful frame a knot of kinetic energy that leapt as though the stage were a springboard. I always insisted on sitting up front so I could appreciate the strength of the dancers, the tautness of their muscles, the sweat on their skin. My lover of motorcycles and poetry once licked my eyeball so quick I hadn't time to blink, and told me he dreamt of crossing a desert with me, of living on nothing but bee pupas and dates. In warm weather he trod across the university campus in bare feet and a four-week beard, singing loudly in German, which was his area of study, to find me in the chaste, narrow bed allocated to undergraduates. There, while the church bells chimed outside my window, he took his time crossing my body with his tongue.

"I'm Stephen," said my husband, a stranger to me then. Dark jeans, expensive jacket, an upper lip that is full like a girl's, against a startlingly handsome face. "Are you plugged in to something?"

My legs were straddling empty air, my back vibrating with an imagined Harley engine, my arms wrapped around the nothingness in front of me. I was laughing. I wasn't sure at first that Stephen was even speaking to me. I was surrounded by young women--he could have been addressing one of them. But the crowd I was entertaining with this impression seemed to shrink back with Stephen's approach. Apparently, they all knew him, knew the type of man he was and to back off with his arrival. I didn't know anything. My lover, now dead, was killed in a highway collision on his way to work one morning. I couldn't even drive a motorcycle, knowing only to hang on to the boy in front of me, whose head was shielded by a shining black helmet. His precious head.

"Pretending to be on a motorcycle," I said. Suddenly, the whole idea seemed stupid.

"Do you like motorcycles?" asked Stephen.

"I used to."

"Would you like a drink?" he asked, nodding toward the bar. "A glass of wine, perhaps?"

I said no, I don't drink. This wasn't actually true, but I had no idea I was speaking to my future husband. He was just some guy. None of my answers were supposed to matter.

He smiled, shook his head. He wasn't easily dissuaded. "Let me guess, you used to drink," he said.

He was the first man that night who looked right at me instead of slightly over my shoulder, who didn't make me feel he was comparing me to a whole list of others. And the first man who had offered me a drink, I might add. "I'll have a glass of white wine," I told him.

He nodded. And then, without a shimmer of uncertainty, he reached out and touched my hair with his fingertips as I searched the floor with my eyes.

"Canadian?" he asked.

"American."

"What brings you to England?"

A combination of circumstances, that was the truth. But it was far too much to explain. "I don't really know," I said.

He laughed. "Yes you do." He was so confident, his eyes steady on me as though he'd known me all his life. "You didn't just get lost," he said.

"Yes, that's exactly it. I got lost."

He put his hands in his pockets, pushed his face a few inches closer to my own, then away again, smiling. He behaved as though we'd just concluded some tacit agreement and I found myself unwilling to challenge him. "I'll get your wine," he said, and disappeared into the crowd.


"Give me a time frame for this," says the shrink. He has a clipboard and a mechanical pencil, a reading lamp that shows his skin, dark and smooth, like an oiled saddle.

"Six years ago. Spring. On windy days the flowering trees sent petals through the air like confetti."


Now we are to talk about my mother.

"She died," I tell the shrink. He waits, unmoving. This is not enough.

So I explain that it was cancer and that I wasn't there. When later I saw the time indicated on the death certificate, I realized that I had been at an ice rink, looping circles in rented skates in a small town near Boston. What does that say about me? About my character? The truth is I couldn't have watched it happen. I mean, the actual moment of death--no. She'd lost both breasts, had a tube stuck into the hollow which would have been her cleavage, shed her hair and her eyebrows. Even her skin peeled in strips. I'd been through all that with her, but this final part was different. There was no helping her.

The worst part, she once told me--this was before things got too bad, before she was entirely bedridden--the worst part, other than the fact that she was dying, was the humiliation of having to go around in maternity clothes. Her belly, its organs swollen with cancer, gave the impression that she'd reached the third trimester of pregnancy. Shopping with her amid the fertile exuberance of expectant mothers had been for her a macabre, debasing affair. We did it. Somehow.

"I should be buying these things for you," she said, holding her credit card in the checkout line. I was twenty-two and looked more or less like all the other women in the shop trying to figure out how big a bra to buy now that they'd outgrown all their others. Except I wasn't pregnant, though secretly I would have liked to be.

"I could only give birth to an alien," I said. "We'd have to buy onesies with room for three legs."
"You will have the most beautiful babies," said my mother. "You are the most beautiful girl."

I remember there was a jingle that kept playing in the shop, a nursery rhyme tapped out on a toy piano. I smiled at my mother. "Yeah, but cut me and I bleed green," I said.

Just before I left for the airport she said, "Let me see you again one last time. Who else can make me laugh?"

I promised her that. I promised her in the same manner with which I made her meals she could not eat, took her to the bathroom in the middle of the night, called the ambulance, sat with her as she lay in bed, exhausted, the telephone on one side of her and photographs of her children (now grown) on the other. I promised I'd be back in no time at all, but the afternoon she died I was gliding along a frozen rink in my woolly socks, my mittens.

The fact is I had no intention of being there when she died. I could not face it. I am a woman of great energy, compulsively active, given to fits of laughter, to sudden anger, to passionate and impossible love affairs. But the truth is I am a coward. Or was a coward.


I call my shrink, Shrink. Not to his face, of course. I also call him Jacob. He seems as fascinated by my being American as I am by his being black, a Londoner, and having almost no visible hair on his body at all except this one thing, his graying mustache, which he is often seen poking at with a slim forefinger. He has the delicate hands of a surgeon, but everything else about him is stocky, compact. His leather chair is faded where his head rests, and there are cracks around the edge of the cushion where his legs bend.

"So that's it, that's all you want to say about your mother?" he says. He sighs, crosses his legs. His laconic air is in direct contrast to my own pulsating, nervous energy. He says, "She died and you weren't there. Okay, how about before that? What about when you were growing up?"

My shrink is a man who wants to reveal me, and yet I know nothing about him. I am sure this is the right and proper way for a patient and therapist to operate, but it feels cold to me. I cannot think of anyone in my life now who wants to see inside me for what is good and right, only those who want to find what is wrong. And that's so easy--everything is wrong. I tell Jacob, "My mother was at work. I don't remember. It doesn't matter."

"Run that by me again?" he says.

"What about how I feel right now?"

It is as though I've eaten a vat of speed; my mind races along trailing incoherencies and half-finished thoughts. There's a continual restlessness in all four of my limbs; I am hungry almost all the time, except when I eat. Two bites and I feel sick. All this has come upon me gradually over the past months. That confident, breezy woman who Stephen saw at a party all those years ago is not me anymore. I am her shadow.

"Jacob," I sigh. "Be a pal and medicate me."

He says, "Melanie, you're going to need to relax about all that or else we won't get anywhere at all."

But I can't relax, which is why I am here. I used to read books by the score but now I find I am unable to concentrate. I go to the library, trying to find a book that might help me, but even the self-help books seem indecipherable. I'm lucky if I can remember a phone number. So instead I wander. I visit all-night cafés on the Edgware Road where teenagers suck sweet tobacco from hookahs; I go traipsing round the New Covent Garden Market, picking lonely flower stems from the shiny cement floor. I'll be at a train station at midnight with no ticket. I might be writing a list on a notepad held in my palm. Or staring at the blank walls of the station or wherever I am, which is anywhere you can linger instead of sleep. During the day, my hands sometimes tremble with fatigue. I squint at sunlight, splash cold water on my face, review the notes I have written to myself reminding me what to do. I set the alarm on my ugly electronic watch, a watch I found in a public toilet at Paddington, in case I fall asleep by accident. I have children to look after, to sing to, play with. I regard them as one might the queen's largest jewels. They receive my best--my only--real efforts.

"I'm just after some help," I tell Jacob. "I am worried all the time."

"I'm trying to help you," he says. He smiles and his teeth are like piano keys, his lips like a sweet fruit, tender and large. His children are grown now. That is all I know about him. "Tell me what troubles you," Jacob says. I am meant to pour myself into him as though he is an empty jug. This I cannot do.

At home I frantically organize clothes and toys, collect the sticks from Popsicles, the interesting wrappers from packets. Egg cartons turn into caterpillars; jam jars become pencil holders, decorated in collage or made garish in glass paint. Setting out the paints and crayons and shallow dishes of craft glue, I prepare for when Emily wakes, my little girl who loves animals and art. Daniel will not draw, will only break the crayons in half, rip the paper. I tell myself he is young yet. A voice inside me says, "Wait and you'll see!" But the voice isn't real and the boy won't even scribble on paper. This is part of the trouble.

"My son," I tell Jacob. He nods. I am meant to continue.

Every morning I take the children to the park, hanging on to them as though someone might snatch them from me, drug them and spirit them away from me forever. This is a great fear of mine. One of my fears. The only reason I haven't been to the doctor for Prozac is that I am convinced that the doctor would alert social services who might then come and take the children away. This is a completely ridiculous idea and I know it--but that's why I'm at the shrink's. Although I have to admit I'm not getting anywhere here.

I say now to my shrink, to Jacob, "Medicate me or I will fire you."

"What's that mean?" Jacob says. "Fire?"

I shake my head. I feel like a seed husk spent beside a loamy soil, like an emptied wineskin drying in the sun. "It means I stop paying you," I sigh.

He smiles, nods. But he does not, at this point anyway, prescribe.


Emily has a mop of blond curls billowing around her face, smiling eyes, aquamarine. Her baby teeth, spread wide in her mouth, remind me of a jack-o'-lantern, and when she laughs it is as though there are bubbles inside her, a sea of contentment. She carries Mickey Mouse by his neck, and wears a length of cord pinned to her trousers so that she, too, has a tail. Kneeling on a chair beside the dining table, she instructs me on the various ways one can paint Dumbo's relatives, who wear decorated blankets which require much precision. Unlike most children, who only paint on paper, Emily enjoys painting three-dimensional objects and so, for this reason, we own nine gray rubber elephants, some with trunks up and some with trunks down, that she has decorated many times. She has yet to find an elephant she thinks is a suitable Dumbo, and so we just have the nine so far.

Daniel has one toy he likes and hundreds he ignores. The one toy he likes is a wooden Brio model of Thomas the Tank Engine. It has a face like a clock, framed in black, with a chimney that serves almost as a kind of hat. The train must go with him everywhere and must either be in his hand or in his mouth. Never in Emily's hand and never washed in the sink, as I am now doing. No amount of reassurance from me, no promise that this will take only one minute, less than a minute, does anything to soothe Daniel, who pounds at my thighs with his small hands, screams like a monkey, opening his mouth so wide I can see down his throat.


From the Hardcover edition.
Marti Leimbach|Author Q&A|Author Desktop

About Marti Leimbach

Marti Leimbach - Daniel Isn't Talking

Photo © marklawrencephotography.co.uk

Marti Leimbach is the author of several novels, including the international bestseller Dying Young, which was made into a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts. Born in Washington, D.C., Leimbach attended the Creative Writing program at University of California, Irvine, and Harvard University. She currently lives in England and teaches at the University of Oxford’s Creative Writing program.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Marti Leimbach, Author
DANIEL ISN’T TALKING

1. Daniel Isn’t Talking is taken very much from your own life. How much do you have in common with the mother in the book?

I went through a very similar experience to that of Melanie, who is the mother of an autistic boy in the novel. For example, I was certain there was something wrong with my child for quite some time before the actual diagnosis, and yet nobody seemed to believe me. I began to think that there was something wrong with me as I was so anxious all the time. Eventually, we discovered that our son was autistic. That did not ease my anxiety, of course, but at least it made me understand that I wasn’t going crazy. And at last I was able to focus on the problem at hand, however awful that problem was. All this went directly into Daniel Isn’t Talking.

2. What was that like, the pre-diagnosis time?

In some ways, I look back on the years before the diagnosis as a kind of dreamy idyllic space in my life. Nobody could have been happier than I was driving the children to farm parks, listening to Peter Pan on the CD player and singing, “I can fly, I can fly!” I was that besotted by motherhood. But then, things started going wrong. Our son was ill very often: ear infections, swollen glands in his neck, sore throats ad vague diagnosis days. I couldn’t get a handle on what was really going on. Things started to unravel, and then they started to go badly wrong. By the time he was three I knew he was autistic. I brought him in for diagnosis knowing the outcome already. Still, I was desperate for the doctors to contradict me, to say he was normal. I almost pleaded with them to say as much. But instead I was met with sentiments like, “He may never talk” and “He will need to go to a special needs nursery right away.” It was a terrible moment in my life.

3. So the boy in Daniel Isn’t Talking, Daniel, is very much like your own son was at that time?

Yes. I didn’t have to imagine what it was like to live with a child with autism. It was just a matter of delivering what I knew to the page.

4. In Daniel Isn’t Talking, the father of the child walks out. Is that what happened in your own life?

No, thank God. But it happens enough in the lives of women around me who have children with serious special needs. It’s hard enough to keep a family together at the best of times, let alone when you have been given the news that one of your children has a serious mental condition. You start to imagine all the worst-case scenarios. Crazy thoughts like “Will he burn the house down?”, “Will he hurt the other children?” , “Will he be dangerous to himself?”, “Will other people hurt him just because he is different?”, “How can I protect him?” There is just a terrific amount of pressure on you all of a sudden. I have read that the divorce rate among parents of autistic children is very high and I am not surprised.

5. Your book talks about the way the mother finds help for her child through particular types of education and play therapy. Is that fiction or are there specific treatments that seem to help autistic children?

People are very much divided on what is the best therapy for autistic children. You have such a variety of approaches, everything from “art therapy” to “music therapy” to something called “TEACCH.” Early on I happened to speak to a man whose son was eight and had been diagnosed with quite low-functioning autism. He took my call on his mobile phone, having no idea at all who I was except that I was an autism mom. He was having dinner at a restaurant in London, but he got up and walked out of the restaurant, leaving his dining companions on their own, in order to speak with me. I asked about all these different therapies and what he thought of them all. He said one sentence which I believe changed the course of my son’s treatment and made him the high-functioning child he is today. He said, “Choose Applied Behavioral Analysis. Everything else is crap.” I don’t know why I believed him, except that it felt to me as though I was speaking to someone in the trenches, who had been in the trenches for a long time, who had survived while others failed, who was battle-weary but full of wisdom. It was as though he was saying, “Here’s the only gun that fires. Pick up the bloody gun.”

6. What is Applied Behavioral Analysis?

Simply put it is an approach to teaching in which you reward a child for offering the desired behavior while ignoring the behavior that is undesirable. It used to be very clinical in its delivery with the child being made to sit at a table and perform repetitive tasks until he got it right. But it evolved into a dynamic, play-based therapy in which the child is set up to succeed, does succeed, and is immediately rewarded for doing what is required. The best practitioners inspire the child to want to learn but they are rare. There are plenty of crummy ABA teachers and some very excellent ones. The best ones are the parents who learn to do this kind of therapy. We know our kids well and we know what makes them tick. I remember teaching Nicky what prepositions are by taking his favorite thing at that time, the number 19, and putting it on top of, behind, or next to blocks. “Where’s number nineteen?” I’d ask, making a bright purple 19 dance on the block. “On the block!” He loved the number nineteen so much he learned “on” real quick.

7. Andy, with whom the author falls in love with in the book, is passionate about teaching children with autism. Are there people like Andy in real life?

Absolutely there are. Sometimes autism is accompanied by other, serious conditions and those kids are harder to teach. However, if you have a child who is “only” autistic and you work with him or her early enough, the child has a real chance at attending regular school, having reasonable language and social skills, making friends. There is a small but important community of individuals who are dedicated to helping these children. I love them. I think they are the most valuable teachers we have and that the way they teach should really be extended even to “neurotypical” children, as clearly they are doing something right.

8. How would you describe your family now?

We think we’re a normal family, but I am not at all sure that others looking at us would agree! My husband, Alastair, and I have been under the most extraordinary stress and trials so when things are going well we really enjoy ourselves. I think I am more of a “worrier” than I used to be, and I was pretty good at worrying before the whole autism thing. It’s just that once you get hit by something that just isn’t supposed to happen, like autism, it changes you. Our daughter, who is not autistic, is an absolute delight and adores her brother while understanding that he is a little different. She is the sunniest girl, always smiling. She says she thinks Nicky is better than other brothers because he is “much nicer.” Nicky, who is nine years old now, attends normal school with help. He’s a charming, talkative boy.


From the Hardcover edition.

Author Q&A

A Note from the Author

Daniel Isn’t Talking is a novel about a woman who discovers her young son is autistic. It is taken in part from my own life as I went through a similar experience five years ago, when my son was diagnosed with autism. About my son: I can tell you I was certain there was something wrong with him for some time before the actual diagnosis. I used to ask the doctors about these obscure symptoms. Why does he walk on his toes, I’d ask. Why does he grind his teeth like that? Why doesn’t he sleep at night? Or eat, for that matter? I mean, surely he should eat? And why doesn’t he talk?

And then one day the answer came and I wished I’d never asked the questions. “Because he is autistic,” I was told.

Autism in a child does not affect only that child. It affects a whole family. Suddenly, everything in my life was different. My normally wonderful husband became remote, unhelpful. The only way I could be sure he took in what I had to say was if I texted him on his mobile. His relatives went around saying things like, “Well, we have no history of autism in our family.” My own relatives, who are not warm and fuzzy people, weren’t much help either. My aunt thought it was my own fault for having a baby so late in life (I was thirty-three). My sister would say things like, “Wow, he’s autistic. So I guess you’re going to have to do something with him.”

Do something with him? I hate to think what she had in mind.

But yes, I had to do something. And just like the character Melanie in Daniel Isn’t Talking, I found myself scrambling to figure out what.

But of course, the novel is not a memoir, and what Melanie does in Daniel Isn’t Talking ends up being far more entertaining than anything in my actual life. Take, for example, the rather delicious Irish guy with whom she falls in love. I can tell you no such man has ever entered my house. I guess that’s just as well, because my husband is in my house. Eventually he dethawed and returned to being the nice guy he usually is.

In fact, very few of the events of the novel ever happened in my life, but the great thing about fiction is that you can take subject matter as difficult as that in Daniel Isn’t Talking and fill it with humor, with surprises, with events that escort the reader gently through the minefield which has become these characters’ lives. I positively loved writing the novel and I feel a particular affinity to it. I admire the main character, Melanie. She was so much braver than I was at the time of my son’s diagnosis. I fell in love with the therapist who shows her how to teach her son. And, of course, the Daniel in the novel is so much like my own son, Nicholas. He brought back memories of the day Nicky finally said his first word–at the age of three years and two months–and how hard he fought to learn the simple things that other children take for granted.

So, this is an important book for me. The latest statistics reveal that one in every 165 families has a child on the autistic spectrum, so I know that the book is going to touch the hearts of many people. I hope it will also touch parents who find that it is sometimes difficult to connect with their children.

For more information on autism or to make a donation to autism research please contact Autism Speaks at www.autismspeaks.org.

Praise

Praise

“Gripping. . . . A tale of a mother’s fierce devotion. . . . Leimbach has a gift for emotionally searing fiction leavened with humor.” —People “Timely and uplifting.” —The New York Times Book Review “Amazing. . . .[A book about] tangled relationships, compassionate moments, fear and joy . . . and along the way there are moments of grace. . . . Gives us reason to hope.” —The Washington Post“Hard to put down. . . . Leimbach’s strength is in creating characters who are human and fallible and become imbedded in your heart.” —USA Today
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

“Gripping. . . . A tale of a mother’s fierce devotion. . . . Leimbach has a gift for emotionally searing fiction leavened with humor.” —People

The introduction, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Daniel Isn’t Talking by Marti Leimbach.

Surprisingly funny yet deeply moving, Daniel Isn’t Talking is the story of a mother and a family in crisis. When Melanie Marsh learns that her son Daniel is autistic, she becomes determined to fight to teach Daniel to speak, play, and become as normal as possible. Melanie’s enchanting disposition has helped her weather some of life’s storms, but Daniel’s autism may just push her over the brink, destroy her resolute optimism, and bring her unsteady marriage to its end.

What sets this novel apart from most fiction about difficult subjects is Marti Leimbach’s ability to write about a sad and frightening situation with a seamless blend of warmth, compassion, and humor.

About the Guide

A Note from the Author

Daniel Isn’t Talking is a novel about a woman who discovers her young son is autistic. It is taken in part from my own life as I went through a similar experience five years ago, when my son was diagnosed with autism. About my son: I can tell you I was certain there was something wrong with him for some time before the actual diagnosis. I used to ask the doctors about these obscure symptoms. Why does he walk on his toes, I’d ask. Why does he grind his teeth like that? Why doesn’t he sleep at night? Or eat, for that matter? I mean, surely he should eat? And why doesn’t he talk?

And then one day the answer came and I wished I’d never asked the questions. “Because he is autistic,” I was told.

Autism in a child does not affect only that child. It affects a whole family. Suddenly, everything in my life was different. My normally wonderful husband became remote, unhelpful. The only way I could be sure he took in what I had to say was if I texted him on his mobile. His relatives went around saying things like, “Well, we have no history of autism in our family.” My own relatives, who are not warm and fuzzy people, weren’t much help either. My aunt thought it was my own fault for having a baby so late in life (I was thirty-three). My sister would say things like, “Wow, he’s autistic. So I guess you’re going to have to do something with him.”

Do something with him? I hate to think what she had in mind.

But yes, I had to do something. And just like the character Melanie in Daniel Isn’t Talking, I found myself scrambling to figure out what.

But of course, the novel is not a memoir, and what Melanie does in Daniel Isn’t Talking ends up being far more entertaining than anything in my actual life. Take, for example, the rather delicious Irish guy with whom she falls in love. I can tell you no such man has ever entered my house. I guess that’s just as well, because my husband is in my house. Eventually he dethawed and returned to being the nice guy he usually is.

In fact, very few of the events of the novel ever happened in my life, but the great thing about fiction is that you can take subject matter as difficult as that in Daniel Isn’t Talking and fill it with humor, with surprises, with events that escort the reader gently through the minefield which has become these characters’ lives. I positively loved writing the novel and I feel a particular affinity to it. I admire the main character, Melanie. She was so much braver than I was at the time of my son’s diagnosis. I fell in love with the therapist who shows her how to teach her son. And, of course, the Daniel in the novel is so much like my own son, Nicholas. He brought back memories of the day Nicky finally said his first word–at the age of three years and two months–and how hard he fought to learn the simple things that other children take for granted.

So, this is an important book for me. The latest statistics reveal that one in every 165 families has a child on the autistic spectrum, so I know that the book is going to touch the hearts of many people. I hope it will also touch parents who find that it is sometimes difficult to connect with their children.

For more information on autism or to make a donation to autism research please contact Autism Speaks at www.autismspeaks.org.

About the Author

Marti Leimbach is the author of several novels, including the international bestseller Dying Young, which was made into a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts. Born in Washington, D.C., Leimbach attended the creative writing program at the University of California, Irvine, and Harvard University. She currently lives in England and teaches at Oxford University’s creative writing program.

Discussion Guides

1. There are occasional flashbacks throughout the novel that give a glimpse of what Melanie was like before she had children. How would you describe her character before she became a mother? How has she changed?

2. Melanie and Stephen’s house empties out of possessions as Melanie sells their things to pay for Daniel’s various therapies and other needs. What does Melanie mean when she says, “I am in a different market than the rest of the world” [p. 164]?

3. How are the subjects of race and class treated in the novel?

4. Andy says he understands Melanie as an “autism mother.” What is the implication of this term? How might Andy’s perception of “autism mothers” be different than that of most people Melanie encounters?

5. When Melanie tells Veena about Daniel’s diagnosis, she makes an outright appeal for Veena’s compassion and sympathy. Instead, Veena says, “You are a white woman living in a white paradise. This is not the worst thing that can happen” [p. 59]. What does Veena mean by this? Why would Melanie find these words comforting?

6. How do you describe the connection between Melanie and Veena? How are these apparently very different women similar? What about their circumstances helps them to understand each other? Would they have been friends if Daniel was normal?

7. Early in the novel Melanie thinks she may be “unstable” [p. 13]. Would you agree with that? Following Daniel’s diagnosis, does she seem more or less “stable” to the world around her? To you as a reader?

8. On the morning of Daniel’s diagnosis, Melanie’s immediate reaction is to say, “I feel that a change has taken place. I cannot help feeling as though I started the journey this morning with my beloved little boy and am returning with a slightly alien, uneducable time bomb” [p. 55]. How has Daniel’s diagnosis temporarily changed his mother’s perception of him? What examples can be seen of her resisting this changed perception? How has Stephen’s view of his son been altered by the diagnosis?

9. How does Daniel’s diagnosis affect his sister, Emily? In what ways does Melanie try to shield Emily from the full implications of having a brother with autism? In what ways is she successful? In what ways is she not successful?

10. Was Stephen’s departure useful in helping Daniel? In the long run, was his absence a good thing for Daniel? For Emily? How might things have been different for the children if Stephen had stayed?

11. At the end of the novel, Melanie states that Stephen “has shifted all blame for our marriage onto me. Onto my whims and desires. At the same time he has cleverly cast his bid. He is smart. Maybe that is what I found so attractive about him. I do not find it so attractive now” [p. 274]. How has Stephen made Melanie feel responsible for the failure of their marriage? Do you think she is to blame?

12. Melanie says that Andy “has touched a part of me that was dying and brought it to life once more. This belongs to him” [p. 183]. What does Melanie mean by this statement? What is the unusual nature of Melanie and Andy’s connection and deepening relationship? What do they know about each other’s families and backgrounds? Does this matter?

13. In Chapter twenty-three Melanie sees a group of young women at a bus stop. About one of them she says, “I want to tell her that she is a woman of great virtue. A woman of grace. That I admire her. And that I see her differently than perhaps she sees herself. Now that I have truly seen her, now that I have taken notice” [p. 258]. In what sense has Melanie “truly seen” this young woman? What stops her from speaking to the woman?

14. How is the reader’s experience of the novel affected by the knowledge that Marti Leimbach herself is an “autism mother?”

Suggested Readings

Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; Kim Edwards, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter; Dani Shapiro, Family History: A Novel; Keith Donohue, The Stolen Child; Cammie McGovern, Eye Contact; Paul Collins, Not Even Wrong: A Father's Journey Into the Lost History of Autism; Katharine Noel, Halfway House: A Novel; Jodi Picoult, Harvesting the Heart; Lisa Tucker, Once Upon a Day: A Novel; Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife; Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants; Chris Bojahlian, Midwives; Jacquelyn Mitchard, Cage of Stars; Anne Tyler, Digging to America; Paul Karasik and Judy Karasik, The Ride Together: A Brother and Sister’s Memoir of Autism in the Family; Catherine Maurice, Let Me Hear Your Voice: A Family's Triumph over Autism; Kamran Nazeer, Send in the Idiots: Stories from the Other Side of Autism

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