OF SUCH SMALL DIFFERENCES by Joanne Greenburg
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OF SUCH SMALL DIFFERENCES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Here, as in In This Sign (1970), Greenberg is concerned with the world of those with sensory deprivation--in an admirably sustained, empathic story of the pain and enrichment via romantic love in the life of a young man who is both blind and deaf. John Moon, hearing until age nine but blind from birth, had mastered a number of methods of communication--including spoken English (although he had to be careful about volume), manual English, Braille, and American Sign Language. And with the concentration of those who must rely on learning the walls, angles, and routines of daily life, John found his existence bearable. There were his work at the furniture workshop, occasional socials, a few friends, and always his poetry--all of which meant independent living, a pride of the handicapped. But actress Leda, both sighted and hearing, who communicates with him in hand-touching finger-spelling, ""blows his life apart."" It is Leda who urges him to write poetry outside the prison of book words, and in the heat of his own experience, not merely translate ""skin-feeling"" into alien words (a word like ""sky,"" for example, has no meaning). Leda's fearless advance (they will have an affair) forces him to deal with the sighted/hearing world, where, like magic, ""People can come and go at will without your knowing it."" Yet that world is oddly ""vain and sensitive, thoughtless and forgetful of others. . .lacking concentration."" While Leda comes and suddenly goes (hadn't he been warned?), John undergoes trials: the rejection of his family, impatient of his needs; and a dreadful beating because he and a handholding, finger-spelling friend are mistaken for homosexuals. And a fine experiment in independent group living is doomed by callous neighbors. But even when Leda leaves for good, John will, with the help of an old teacher/friend, regain courage and accept a knowledge of new griefs along with new joys. Greenberg has delineated impressively the intense, highly focused world of the deaf-and-blind, spelled out the cruelties to which they're vulnerable, and given a tangy approximation of their pungent, abbreviated, signed diction. Landmark fiction for those with an interest in that Other World in our midst.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Henry Holt