Tag Archives: Asperger’s

The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies (2014)

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I have somewhat mixed feelings about tabloids. While I like magazines such as the Weekly World News with such truths in their headlines as ‘Bigfoot stole my baby!’ and ‘Al Qaeda Vampires Run Amok in Iraq,’ I loathe these kinds of brainless entertainments’ shameless exploitation of tragedies such as Robin Williams’ suicide and the Sandy Hook Massacre. And I can fully see how such media can run rampant and derail someone’s life. I honestly believe the media is a sizable part of what drives many actors on downward spirals. And then there’s Christopher Jefferies. What didn’t break him made him stronger, and this film tells his infuriating and enlightening story.

Christopher (Jason Watkins) is a man of whom I’m convinced of two things, based on this movie #1) that he was gay, and #2) that he was somewhere on the Autism Spectrum, probably mild Asperger’s. Alternately blunt, socially inappropriate, and downright rude, Chris lived a somewhat hermetic existence and was the landlord of a couple of flats in the small English village of Failand. Watkins plays him in a thoroughly believable and compelling manner, every infinitesimal tic and twitch duly perfected. Christopher is a retired schoolteacher and anti-social lone wolf who finds himself in the middle of a police investigation when one of his tenants, Joanna Yeates (Carla Turner) is found murdered outside his place.

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Suddenly, everything about Christopher seems suspect- his ‘to catch a predator’ wardrobe, his odd inflection and apparent lack of empathy, even the fact that he is an older man living on his own, and such men must, by extension, be pervs. Of course, correcting the cops’ grammar during questioning doesn’t help Jefferies look like an innocent man, and with no further ado, the police make this assumption: odd old man + suspicious circumstances= killer. They hardly have anything on him that isn’t circumstantial, but suddenly the entire country is in an uproar over this man’s presumed guilt. The thing is, Jefferies didn’t do it, and his lawyer, Paul Okebu (Shaun Parkes) is determined to bring his innocence to light.

Honestly, this movie didn’t end nearly as tragically as I thought it would. I knew almost nothing going in, and I was tense throughout the film, expecting something terrible to happen not only to Yeates, but to Jefferies too (being unfamiliar with the case as I was.) However I was immediately sucked in by the lead character and performance. If the police understood Autism-like behavior more, they would see that this man was not a monster, just a harmless oddball. Watkins does an amazing job of playing someone who is ‘on the spectrum’ who just happens to be gay without reducing his character to a gay or aspie caricature. Some people might find this story slow, but if you like British dramas and the feeling of heightened realism they create, you’re sure to like this film.

Note- Frankly, I’m a little confused because this film is described on Imdb as a ‘mini-series,’ but the version I saw on Netflix Streaming was a movie just under two hours, and distributed by Universal. If I missed some footage of the original cut, I would definitely like to see the whole thing straight through. Any help on this would be much appreciated, and I hope you get a chance to see this film; it’s fascinating. For me, British cinema holds a kind of appeal that American movies just don’t, and I would love to discuss the themes of this obscure gem with anyone who wishes to partake.losthonourof

The Way Things Look to Me by Roopa Farooki

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Can we take a temporary hiatus from books about neurotypical protagonists who perceive their Autistic Spectrum siblings as mostly or entirely irrelevant balls and chains in their otherwise perfect lives? I know, I know, the teen overlooked by their parents in favor of their special needs brother or sister, who needs so much more care than they is a story as old as time, to say the least. But how long after the parents are dead can the angst and resentment carry on? Isn’t there a time to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and forgive the sins of your parents, and the overbearing challenges of your disabled sibling?

For me, the Murphy’s realization that no, they might not had it perfect, but it could have been a whole lot fucking worse couldn’t come soon enough. Asif and Lila, two Palestinian/Irish siblings, have always lived in the shadow of their brilliant Asperger’s sister Yasmin. They were in many ways denied a childhood because of their mother’s insistence that they not do anything to set off Yasmin. Now, Mom and Dad are dead and Asif serves as the primary caretaker to Yasmin, a beautiful but painfully awkward teen whose moods fluctuate on the turn of a dime. And Lila… what exactly does Lila do?

She promiscuously fucks around, throws epic tantrums, and is a grade-A cunt to everyone who crosses her path. Of course, she isn’t responsible for any of this. This is all her sister’s fault, for stealing all of Mommy’s love and attention, while she suffered an extended bout of depression and unhappiness. Lila is an infuriating character. I have never met anyone like her, and if I did, I would do something drastic, like throw my sneaker at her. In my limited experience, most people don’t seek out confrontation with complete strangers, but the name of her game is Drama with a capital ‘D.’

I found it impossible to sympathize with Lila, and hard to sympathize with Asif, who is too bland and plays it too safe while being privately self-pitying to be a compelling character. Yasmin is not always likable, but  least you can blame it on her condition, which limits empathy in some (not all) of it’s patients. Lila is a stock Beautiful But Damaged heroine, and her blind boyfriend Henry thinks she’s beautiful inside and out and absolutely wonderful in  every way. Until a scene where Henry goes explosively off which comes out of left field, culminating in angry and abusive sex, Henry is the disability equivalent of the magical Negro, and the male version of the manic pixie dream girl (he’s sensitive! He’s quirky! He’s wonderfully British! He exists to save the self-absorbed little bitch from herself!)

Henry is a completely unbelievable character in the amount of shit he takes from Lila. The scene where he explodes, screams at her, and takes her a rough and loveless fashion (not quite rape, but still) struck false, and serves simply as a way of showing that he wasn’t completely perfect while seeming artificial and icky. As for Yasmin, you’re better off reading “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” as it is more of the same. The subplots of Yasmin having synesthesia  and particularly going blind (which is never fully handled) seem ill-conceived and underdeveloped.

The writing here is decent, so why did I pan it so enthusiastically? After all, it’s not really that bad a book. An acutely observed character detail here, an interesting simile there…. I guess ‘The Way Things Look to Me’ just rubbed me the wrong way. I never warmed up to the characters and their individual dramas, and I had to power through the book while suppressing a groan. Asif and Lila were SO self-absorbed, and Asif continually played the martyr, which made him even more exhausting. Yasmin was the typical robotic, tragically cold and distant savant, and although I was not offended by Farooki’s portrayal of her (which was fairly accurate for some cases) I wish that authors would acknowledge that Asperger’s comes in many forms.

Domestic dramas mostly work when you’re invested in the characters, and that just didn’t happen for me here. I’d also like to point out that while Lila never calls Yasmin a retard, continually referring to her is Raingirl and Miss Spock can be just as pejorative and damaging. As a person with mild Asperger’s Syndrome, I’d also like to say (although this is not the fault of the book, which deals with a more typical case,) many people with AS do feel empathy just as fully for other people.

I found ‘The Way Things Looks to Me’ an angsty and overlong book, chock-full of self-pity, but I don’t not recommend it. It might appeal perfectly to other people, just as one man despises a dish that his companion loves. This review is based more on my personal reaction than the quality of the character development or writing in the book. It’s just that I wouldn’t want to spend my afternoon with these people, so why would I want 338 pages of my time with these people. They’re not even compelling in a macabre, ‘Wasp Factory’-way. But I digress. This is not a book for me. It made me annoyed and exasperated. But it is not terrible, and those would like to read it should, by all means, partake.

The Imitation Game (2014)

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Being a genius ain’t easy. However, being a latently homosexual genius with undiagnosed Asperger’s in a time where being different was not just detrimental to your social status, but dangerous is damn near impossible. “The Imitation Game” is a (sorta) true story of Alan Turing, who saved thousands of lives by cracking the Germans’ enigma code during World War II and may have cut the war short more than two years.

Turing is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, your go-to guy for Brit quirkiness without going too off the radar. Just look at the guy. He looks like he was born to play an eccentric-slash-asocial genius. And while many found “The Imitation Game” to be generic Oscar Bait, I was thoroughly engrossed by the troubled life of Alan Turing. Tragic, yes. But also fascinating.

My interest was largely based on Benedict Cumberbatch’s amazing acting job (it should also be mentioned that Alex Lawther, who played young Alan, also gave an outstanding performance) and the fact that I had reasonably low expectations. A drama about codes and mathematics? Bor-ing! Everybody who knows me knows perfectly well that math is not my strong suite. But a fascinating lead and an arresting storyline? That I can get behind.

If this movie is true at all to the real man, Turing had a brilliant mathematical mind, but he was not someone you’d invite to a squash game. In fact, he most likely isn’t the kind of man you’d associate with at all. He’s a genius, yes, but he knows he’s a genius, and that makes him all but insufferable. He’s actually a bit of an arsehole, but you still can’t help falling a little in love with him, as some (not me) were endeared to Sheldon in “Big Bang Theory.” Turing is a much better written character, but he possesses the same offhand arrogance, somewhat effeminate softness, and distaste for the common man. Not to mention his lackluster (to say the least) social skills.

When Alan Turing is hired to break a German code under almost unbeatable obstacles, he is convinced he can do it himself, aided by nothing but his big old brain (not to mention one hundred-thousand pounds government funds.) But he finds an unlikely ally in Joan Clarke (the lovely, if worryingly thin, Keira Knightley,) a girl who seems rather ordinary on the outside, but who possesses a keen mathematical mind.

Flash-forward to Turing being interviewed by a skeptical officer (Rory Kinnear) afted he is arrested for sexual indecency (i.e. homosexual acts.) Turing recounts to the policeman his efforts working for the military cracking codes as well as his childhood bullying at the hands of the other students and hopeless crush on his schoolmate Christopher (Jack Bannon.)

The film itself  is apparently fairly historically inaccurate. This has bothered some purists, but I say, so what? Sometimes biographical honesty is the best policy, and sometimes the story just turns out better when you take it in a different direction altogether. And yes, sometimes the story does feel conventional, with characters having dime-store epiphanies when the plot requires them to, but any occasional  lack of depth the script is overtaken by the fantastic acting. If  nothing else, this movie will make you think about the liberties we take for granted today concerning our sexual practices.

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The Quarry by Iain Banks

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“The Quarry” is a novel focusing on the slow-paced exploits of an appealing narrator, eighteen-year-old Kit, and seven exasperatingly mean-spirited nincompoop side characters, whose rants and abrasive political views take up a copious amount of the book. Kit, a high-functioning Autistic with an avid video game fandom, lives with his abusive, foul-mouthed (and dying) father Guy in a ramshackle house on the edge of a quarry. The house is scheduled for demolition as soon as Guy kicks it and the government vacates Kit, who is wondering seriously about the probability of supporting himself after his father’s death.

Guy has cancer and isn’t expected to make it much longer. To accompany Guy in his final days- or drive him to an early grave, the more likely outcome (with friends like these, who needs enemies?) a group of Guy’s university friends come over to the water-damaged wreck of a house. I won’t go into great detail describing them for you; suffice to say they are horrible people, intellectual wannabes/ vacuous losers who aren’t really there for Guy at all.

No, what these self-righteous pricks want has nothing to do with altruism- they have their sights set on a missing videotape that allegedly contains shocking footage that nobody wants found. I was initially sucked in by the mystery of the tape, but the resolution of this plot thread was disappointing to say the least. I hate to say bad things about this novel- writer Iain Banks was dying when he wrote it and it was obviously a very personal project to him. Indeed, “The Quarry” has some very good qualities- just not enough.

You’ve got Kit’s story for starters. If you focused on Kit and cut out all the extraneous bullshit (i.e. the side character’s political crap,) you’d have one hell of book. Kit has a unique way of seeing the world due to his condition, and for every moment he was self-absorbed and painfully immature, there was another where he was charming and likable. And that’s as it should be- people with disabilities aren’t saints, and pretending they are is nothing less than careful, calculated nonsense. I’ll never look at traffic jams the same way again after hearing Kit’s wonderfully quirky take on their spiritual dimension.

Sadly, about 25% percent of “The Quarry” is simply unnecessary- long, pointless tirades haranguing the bureaucratic bullshit of just about everything. None of the characters besides Kit are remotely likable, and even the only one who serves as a friend to Kit, film critic Holly, ends up betraying him in the end. Kit wants to believe in Holly, and convinces himself she cares about him and has his best interests at heart. That’s not the point. We don’t believe in Holly. If anything, we believe she should get her free-loading ass out of Kit’s house.

The creepiness of Kit’s indecent  interest in mom-figure Hol didn’t even bother me. I just found parts of the book terribly dry and didactic. The character’s scathing monologues are more exhausting and annoying than affecting- does anyone actually talk like that? And do we really want to have anything to do with these terrible, and more to the point, completely uninteresting people?

Iain Banks’ first novel, “The Wasp Factory,” was great, and there really are moments that shine in “The Quarry.” I like Kit’s way of dissecting the fine points of the  everyday niceties that don’t come naturally to him, although sometimes he seemed more socially intuitive than most neurotypical  people. I just see a lot of filler that would be better off in the writer’s paper wastebasket. It’s a shame that he didn’t write a better book with his last time on earth.

Reclaiming the Sand by A. Meredith Walters

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Wow. I have quite the love-hate relationship with this book, much like the novel’s protagonist, Ellie, has with her frienemy-turned-romantic-interest Flynn Hendrick. On one hand, it was a mostly well-written story and a well-done depiction of a young adult on the Autism Spectrum, which was good. It depicts the Asperger’s character as multi-faceted and a sexual being, and the characters were pleasingly three-dimensional. But on the other hand, it was so damned depressing. I kept having to put it down and not wanting to return to it, because it just barely involved me enough to move past the uber-heavy subject matter.

Flynn, who has Asperger’s, is tormented by a gang of kids as a teenager, flanked reluctantly by the girl he falls hard for, Ellie McCallum. In the privacy of Flynn’s home, Ellie is his ‘friend.’ At school, with the clique watching, she is anything but. Flynn, an innocent, naive boy with a literal mind and a blunt tongue, can’t understand why Ellie hurts and betrays him again and again. Years later, Ellie runs into Flynn again when he returns to his hometown of Wellston, West Virginia. She’s still the same small-minded pathetic person, and he’s the same shy, awkward young man.

The book is narrated in alternating chapters by Flynn and Ellie. Flynn’s POV sections are set in the past, when he is brutalized by Ellie’s friends while Ellie watches and doesn’t lift a finger to help. Ellie’s chapters are set present-day, as she and Flynn reconnect and Ellie experiences an emotional awakening. The flashbacks are devastating, but the present-day chapters have an unnerving vibe because of how cruel Ellie was to Flynn, so watching them get cozy is discomforting to say the least. The only thing I can compare it to is a romance where the rapist hooks up with victim. What Ellie did to Flynn was emotional rape, and Flynn’s easy forgiveness of his tormenter is heartbreaking.

Yet, despite everything, I DO feel for Ellie. She’s a broken girl who grows up to be a troubled woman, hanging out with the same trash that accompanied her through the high school halls. These include Dania, expectant mother and drunk/addict extraordinaire, and Stu, a cruel and often downright sociopathic creep who callously uses women for sex. Ellie narration explains her actions somewhat, and she grows hugely as a character throughout the duration of the novel.

The writing is mostly good, though I found some of the lovey-dovey and sex scenes to contain more cheese than necessary. Ellie’s emotional dependance on Flynn to feel like half a person was disturbing, and I found it hard to believe that a relationship between a considerably Autistic and neurotic man and a self-loathing woman with her own baggage could work. I empathized with their love, but between Ellie’s meanness and Flynn’s tantrums, I couldn’t fully ‘ship’ this couple.

Although I found the subject matter painful, I am glad I read this book. The author obviously did her research on Autism, and there were many aspects of the novel I appreciated. On a side note, the editing needed a lot of work. There was a lot of incorrect homonym usage (“There” and “Their,” anyone?) and the book often read like a rough draft in terms of spelling and grammar. Although I had moments when I wasn’t enjoying this book too much, I am excited for the sequel, ‘Chasing the Tide,’ and want to continue Ellie and Flynn’s story when the novel comes out. I just sincerely hope A. Meredith Walters hires a new editor. A book I would recommend, but with some hesitation, as I think the subject matter could have been done slightly better.

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

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“Marcelo in the Real World” is a novel that, like it’s sweet but often bewilderingly naive protagonist, took time to grow on me. It gets points for offering a unique perspective on Autism Spectrum Disorders and a fair and balanced portrayal of Christianity. Marcelo Sandoval, a quiet and innocent Mexican-American 18-year-old, seems to have an Asperger’s Syndrome like condition which, on top of typical AS symptoms, causes him to hear ‘mental music’ that no one else can. Doctors can’t figure out why this happens. and Marcelo is an enigma to friends and family.

All Marcelo wants to do is stay at Patterson, his school for kids with special needs, and take care of the Hafflinger ponies that reside there. His plan for a sheltered and uneventful summer takes a detour, however, when his father, Arturo insists he work at his law firm over vacation. Marcelo complies only after pressure and is send to Sandoval & Holmes legal firm, where he begins to come face to face with some very unpleasant realities for the first time. These include manipulative and hedonistic Wendell Holmes and his bullying father Stephen, Arturo’s partner in crime. But what rattles him most is a picture of a severely disfigured teen that leads him to bitter realities about his father, the firm, and the ‘real world’ his dad wants so desperately for him to join.

Consistent with most AS patients, Marcelo has a special interest- in this case, religion. He also has an annoying habit of referring to himself in the third person, i.e. ‘Marcelo is scared’ or ‘Marcelo is hungry,’ which got some getting used to. A lot of the book focuses on Marcelo’s relationship with his attractive and sturdy co-worker Jasmine. As his sweet genuineness and her strength brings them closer together, Marcelo wonders if he is capable of passionate, sensual love. The other parts of the book are a mix of coming-of-age, theology, and a little bit of legal thriller.

At first, I had trouble of conceiving of a creature like Marcelo existing. In today’s voyeuristic, media obsessed, sex-crazed world, Marcelo is a soft-spoken, childlike, pure, all-around good guy. Wendell, on the other hand, is not someone who you’d like to be on the receiving end of when he wants his way. I felt protective of Marcelo (why can’t he take care of the ponies over the summer anyway?) but was simultaneously annoyed by him. He really did not have a clue about human err. He grows a lot as a character throughout the book, however. Over the course of that crazy summer, he becomes a man.

I found a little bit of the dialogue distractingly over-the-top, particularly at the beginning. In fact, at many ways Marcelo seems like the least self-centered, blunt, ‘autistic’ person in the firm. Everyone says exactly what they want to say, everyone gripes and gossips. Maybe this is really how the world works, but it seemed wrong to me. Jasmine is a character who I liked a bit better over the course of the novel too. Wendell was the only lead character who stayed the same throughout the book. Frankly, he needed to be slapped.

Marcelo’s voice is well-researched and genuine. He doesn’t seem like an Autistic Spectrum stereotype or a “Rain Man”-type character at all. Author Francisco X. Stork doesn’t make Autism define Marcelo and doesn’t make him a number-droning zombie, incapable of human feeling. Marcelo is only mildly on the spectrum, but honestly, you fear for him a little while reading this book. He’s so easily beguiled and taken advantage of that I myself wouldn’t want him walking the streets of Boston, Massachusetts by himself. It’s not that he’s stupid or defective, but his seemingly boundless naivete makes him such an easy target.

This is young adult fiction but it’s written in a such a way that anyone can enjoy it, and it’s not bogged down with a lot of psychobabble about Asperger’s (“House Rules” by Jodi Picoult comes to mind in the psychobabble department.) “Mindblind” by Jennifer Roy (a book about a brilliant fourteen-year-old Aspergian) would make a good companion read with this. It is a touching coming-of-age story in the same league as books such as “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky.

Parallel Play: Growing Up With Undiagnosed Asperger’s by Tim Page

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A few years ago, I fell in love with John Elder Robison’s enlightening and entertaining autobiography Look Me In the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s. I was deeply appreciated Robison’s ability to shed a light on his foibles and faults, both within the diagnosis of and apart from his Asperger’s Syndrome. Little did I know that I would love Tim Page’s small but effective memoir, Parallel Play, even more. A former music critic and only recently diagnosed Aspergian, Tim Page is a brilliant, funny, and insightful writer. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought he’d been planning this book all his life, constructing the sentences so exquisitely so that the fellow Aspie could nod in agreement and wonderment, marveling that at last someone understood them.

“Parallel Play” chronicles Page’s life from the age of about four (a tricky age where he describes himself as a ‘grim little athiest,’ struggling with daunting existential questions) to the slump of middle age. In the years in between, Tim Page experiences many struggles, from crippling social anxiety and depression to drug and alcohol use. His love for books, music, and films keeps him afloat. Page’s self-deprecating wit lightens passages that might otherwise be hard to read (his adolescent suicide letter, the drunken car crash that took the life of several of it’s passengers and left him alive.)

The chronicle of Page’s childhood is insightful and often laugh-out-loud funny. His youthful years were lonely, yes, but also shaped him as a human being. He describes his love of music culminating at an early age, his dislike of his baby sister Betsy, and his father’s paranoia-fueled Cold War anxieties (I wonder if his dad had a touch of Asperger’s himself.)

Tim Page describes Asperger’s to the outsider looking in. The condition, a collection of social awkwardness, obsessive hobbies, sensory issues, and a unique wordview, is often confused with eccentricity, insanity, or just plain entitlement to the uninformed observer. But, in fact, Asperger’s does exist, and it’s not always so easy to be Asperger’s in a neurotypical world.

The later chapters are less about Asperger’s and more about Page’s misspent youth- pot, hallucinogens, and high alcohol intake that only exacerbated his panic attacks. He isn’t afraid to portray his younger self as ignorant (albeit brilliant,) pedantic, and snide. In a world of memoirs that portray their creators as victims in an uncaring world, how refreshing it is to see a man who is not afraid to shed light on his weaknesses! Furthermore, I found his chronicles of his urges and youthful sexual experiences fascinating rather than awkward.

You really walk away with a better sense of who this man is, rather than bogging us down with Asperger’s rhetoric. Some parts of the book were boring (like the passages that went on and on about classical music and the opera- Chapter 8 was particularly dry,) but if you indulge Page during the wordy parts, the rest of the memoir is incredibly rewarding.

 Parallel Play is honest and real where other memoirs are self-pitying and meandering. Tim Page has an incredible mind, and to read this book is to cast a deep, penetrating look into it. A slim volume, the book can be read in a couple days (incidently, I took longer) but you will not regret it. Tim Page should write another book for his fans!

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