I requested a Kindle sample of Andrew Solomon's Far from the Tree, and when I started it I thought there had been a mistake. I thought they must have sent me the whole thing inadvertently, because I was reading and reading and reading and reading and the sample wasn't over.
In fact, it's just a really big book with a proportionately long sample: the whole thing constitutes 976 pages on children who differ in significant and often painful ways from their parents. I'm about 300 pages in at the moment, past the chapters on deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, and autism. It's been arresting and beautiful and hard to read. Why do I get so exasperated with a kid whose laundry-folding is not up to my standards, when there are SO many other things we could be dealing with?
The chapter on autism was especially difficult to read. I am not convinced that Solomon accurately describes the experiences of many families dealing with autism. He oscillates between descriptions of kids with severe/profound impairments that create enormous chaos and descriptions of highly verbal adults from the neurotypical movement. Check out this quote from an autistic man named Jim Sinclair:
When parents say, 'I wish my child did not have autism,' what they're really saying is, 'I wish the autistic child I have did not exist, and I had a different (non-autistic) child instead.' Read that again. This is what we hear when you mourn over our existence. This is what we know, when you tell us of your fondest hopes and dreams for us: that your greatest wish is that one day we will cease to be, and strangers you can love will move in behind our faces.
I think the autism chapter focuses on the two extremes of the spectrum, and a chapter that intersperses RED and VIOLET and MORE RED and MORE VIOLET will not represent the experiences of families whose lives are GREEN (or BLUE or YELLOW). The chapter ends with a horrifying section describing some of the parents who have killed their autistic children; Solomon talks repeatedly about prenatal testing and its impact on the communities he is describing.
Mostly the stories he tells are testaments to quotidian beauty, to people choosing to find meaning in their circumstances despite the difficulty of doing so. He quotes a mother who says, "If someone had said to me, 'Betty, how'd you like to give birth to a lesbian dwarf?, ' I wouldn't have checked that box. But she is Anna, cornerstone of the family. I wish the road had not been so steep for her, but I'm so glad she managed to climb it with grace."