MEMOIR OF AN UNLIKELY SAVIOR by Peter VanDenBeemt

Savior  As the author says in his Acknowledgements, this is the “evolution of a tentative collection of linked short stories”.   This is an interesting, though somewhat odd book, the story of a young man, autistic and vision-challenged, as he works his way through separating from the tight grip of his parents and bullying older brother, to find his own spirituality, his own way in the world, and answers to his difficult childhood.

First, the mechanics of the book.  Well written, that is, sentence by sentence.  However, the seams  of the short stories are sometimes jarringly visible.  I would like to have seen more ruthless editing of their joining, eliminating the repetition of some scenes, the reiteration of what we already know in other places.  We didn’t really need the recapitulation given to us in spots;  we just read it!   It got a bit confusing here and there, but I’m smart enough to have figured it out.  But like I said, a tighter edit would have done it a world of good.

Now, the good points.  Although the protagonist is referred to as ‘autisic’, and refers to himself that way, the description of his behaviors and thought processes sounds more specifically like Asperger’s Syndrome.  Since this story is set in 2003, I think there was enough known then to call it that.   The story is told in the first person, and the protagonist describes his feelings and events with colors, a very charming and likable trope, and believable as well.

The bones are that a poorly sighted young man, coping with a highly functioning form of autism, living in Boston  with a decent job, reads about Primal Scream therapy, figures it might be the answer to his disjointed life, and against his parents’ advice, picks up stakes and move across country to L.A., where he gets in touch with a practitioner and begins  weekly therapy.

Throughout the book, he recounts his dreams, and his sessions, which I found to be tedious after a while, but then, I am a ‘cut to the chase’ kind of reader.  Following long developmental processes, fascinating as it can be, eventually pale.

While visiting the Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor, he experiences an ‘episode’, where he seems to disappear into another’s life, a sailor on the ship at the time of the bombing.  I was a bit nervous that this was going to turn into some kind of paranormal storyline, but it somehow doesn’t, although I was never clear just what part this was supposed to play in his ongoing efforts to grow and heal his mind.  He has a girlfriend, distant and not quite together, who gets bitten by a rattlesnake on a camping trip they take together to the desert.  This figures quite heavily in the storyline, as well.  Perhaps it serves as a vehicle to examine guilt and grief.  What do I know.  Perhaps it is only an example of ‘that’s life’.  Random crap happens. Deal with it.

It is basically a “quest’ type of story, with our hero questing after Truth, his truth, and healing.  It may be every young person’s story  — pushy seemingly unloving parents, pushy, unpleasant older brother, feeling out of place, feeling like everyone else seems to know the rules but them, a struggle to learn the rules, to fit into society.  He wants to be a writer, not a computer programmer, a coder, and begins to write think pieces based on famous works of art.  Interesting concept.

So, like I said, I enjoyed it.  I did say that, right?

 

 

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