Friday, May 21, 2021

Review of The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

As an enthusiastic reader—ahem, bibliophile, one of the things that keeps bringing me back to story after story on the page is the ability of certain writers or books to put me into the shoes of people or situations entirely different than my own. Books like Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn, Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time are great examples. It's not a rule that great book = reader in shoes of main character; books can focus on other elements and be successful in their own right. In Elizabeth Moon's 2002 Speed of Dark, however, it is the reader wholly in the shoes, bow knots neatly tied.

Speed of Dark is a year in the life of Lou Arrendale. A semi-uplifted autistic, Lou does not display some of the more extreme characteristics of the disorder thanks to treatments as a child, but nevertheless lives and breathes the life of an autistic. High functioning, he holds down a job as a bioinformatician at a major corporation, and has a social life both inside the firm with fellow autistics, as well as outside with the members of an informal fencing group. Lou's new boss having some edgy ideas regarding the possibilities for an untested drug for autism, Lou eventually comes to face strong pressure but also strong possibility for his future.

The gold standard for me personally, of a writer able to entirely put the reader into the shoes of their main character is Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. Speed of Dark does not hit that standard—but it hits close. Moon's diction perfectly attuned, the crisp, logical sentences perfectly complement Lou's character. Stream of consciousness a major part, the reader comes to know the man intimately. From his uncertainty toward love and sex, his social awkwardness yet rational confidence, and ultimately his sense of identity and agency, its a fascinating journey through what could be described as a mind alien to most “normal” people.

Speed of Dark is in some ways Flower for Algernon for the 21st century, and in other ways it is the anti-Flowers for Algernon. Read on to find out. Regardless of comparisons, the novel, or perhaps more directly stated, the main character , is something that sticks with the reader. Having been put so completely into Lou's shoes, it's difficult to undo the laces when the final page turns. While the devices which drive plot tension may be a bit black and white, the plight of an autistic man to take agency in an existence he struggles to rationalize will likely be what sticks strongest of all. For readers who enjoy character studies, this is highly unique, and highly recommended.

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