An unhappy yet hopeful story of "a sleepless parent [and] a wordless child."
In a poetic, entrancing voice, debut author Mutch chronicles how she and her autistic son, who also has Down syndrome, endured a two-year stretch of not sleeping through the night. She shepherded nonverbal 9-year-old Gabriel through his episodes of shrieks and noises—during which the tenderhearted, jazz-loving boy she adored vanished—and struggled to make sense of his confounding behavior. She desperately wanted to understand what Gabriel was "communicating" through these outbursts, but she was unable to break the code. Luckily for him, her husband slept through most of these chaotic episodes (their younger child is also a minor character in this tale), casting the author as the heroine looking to pierce Gabriel's impenetrable outer self. Readers experience Mutch's dazed state of mind as she relates her dreamlike memories, which give her memoir a novelistic tone; she tells of "hospital corridors blank as laundry chutes" and laments that "there is no sorcery for the problem" she faced. During this period, the author repeatedly read Adm. Robert Byrd's memoir detailing his six months alone during the Antarctic winter in 1934. She explores her son's silences and attendant nightly shrieks as Byrd did the perpetual night of the frozen, uncharted polar territory, and she regards his experiences as "correlative with the psychic regions where I've been stumbling.” This kinship eventually hijacks her own story, possibly since his adventures offered an exciting respite to her son's nightly shouting, which, no matter her steadfastness, made her delirious. Further, the foreshadowing and imagined significance of events before this period try the patience of readers eager for the story to move toward its conclusion.
Mutch's story is absorbing and creatively rendered, but the central mystery remains.