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by Ann Bauer

Pub Date: Sept. 6th, 2005
ISBN: 0-7432-6949-7
Publisher: Scribner

A spare, demanding addition to the burgeoning genre that traces how a “problem” child destroys his well-meaning parents’ lives together.

Around age four, Edward stops talking and, except for occasional brief relapses into near normalcy, shows many symptoms of autism, although the specialists decide he is not specifically autistic. Edward’s mother, Rachel, and father, Jack, are distraught. Jack folds his failing construction business and the family moves back to Minneapolis, where Rachel’s parents live. Jack takes a job as a cop, and Rachel works part-time for a newspaper. Their younger son, Matt, shows signs of great intelligence, but Edward remains mute and painfully sleepless. Then, during a tonsillectomy, he sleeps while he’s anaesthetized and later is given codeine. Finally rested, he begins to behave more normally, but once the codeine wears off, he reverts to his usual zombie state. Desperate to find a way to help him sleep, Rachel persuades Jack to procure some marijuana, which they serve Edward as tea, but, when it doesn’t work, they stop. Their third child, Grace, is born around the same time that Rachel discovers that melatonin may help Edward sleep. Edward learns to write, and, just when their lives seem on track, Jack is fired for having bought the marijuana for Edward. After disappearing on a binge, he returns to take a job as a bank guard, and family life gets back on track. Jack proves himself gifted at working with Edward, and all the children thrive. But Edward tells a social worker about the old “tea” incident and Jack, charged with child abuse, disappears. What binds and tears the couple apart is that Rachel is driven to cure Edward at whatever cost, while Jack is willing to pay that cost.

Though without easy or pat explanations, Bauer’s world is rich in the often wrong-headed but always well-meaning choices her characters, like real people, make daily. An impressive debut.