The impact of an autism diagnosis reverberates down the decades for a Seattle family in a voluminous novel exploring words and expression, parenting and letting go.
Charles Marlow has devoted years of his life to teaching students at a private school while dealing with his 20-year-old son Cody's autism, which was diagnosed when the boy was 2. Charles is also burdened by a younger daughter, Emmy; an ex-wife, Alison; and the memory of his own childhood, marked by warring parents and a landmark fourth-grade year that involved another mentally challenged boy. Kallos (Sing Them Home, 2009, etc.) delivers an abundance of ideas, history, and sympathetic observations in her new novel, written in slightly old-fashioned prose that's underpinned at times by gentle wit. But the welter of topics—language and storytelling, spiritual belief, artistic expression, guilt, affliction, and much more—is a challenge. Her solution is a splintered narrative that comes at both past and present from multiple angles. Cody's need to move on from state-supported care; Charles' experience during that crucial childhood year, which included startling recognition and also extreme self-recrimination; Charles' meeting, marriage to, divorce from, and subsequent dealings with Alison; Emmy's side of the story; and the addition of some other valuable but not always fully formed characters, including a sweet-scented photographer/pupil and a demented nun—all these contribute to the business of Charles’ struggle toward redemption. However, hard-to-believe revelations and an overload of sentimentality cloud its eventual impact.
Although touchingly humane and impressive in scope, this novel is undermined by some lapses in judgment and its excessive ambition.