Last Friday I was driving home to get some lunch. I had NPR’s Fresh Air on the radio. I work very closely to where I live, so I typically only get about 3-5 minutes of content on this type of trip. Terry Gross was interviewing author Jem Lester. He was talking about his new book, Shtum. I’m not sure how far into the interview they were when I joined, but I listened to the rest of the segment — sitting in my car idling in the driveway at my house.
One of the main characters in the novel is an autistic ten-year-old boy. Lester has an autisic son that was the inspiration for the character. In the interview, Lester spends time describing both the character and his son. And, this doesn’t happen to me very often, but a really strong sense of connectedness came over me. He was saying things I have said and thought before — nearly verbatim. It almost felt like I was giving the interview — right down to the details about his son’s biting self-injury. Again, this doesn’t happen very often, but I’m sitting in my driveway — for around ten minutes — tearing up, listening.
It’s really easy for me to feel like we are the only family dealing with a child like Koan. And, in some ways, that’s absolutely valid and true. Unlike Lester’s son, Koan is not autistic. He does not have a neatly defined diagnosis and prognosis. We don’t know what to expect, and largely that’s good. But, sometimes feelings of isolation and fear can also insinuate themselves into our lives, too, without the certainty of a label. It’s really delightful to run across a person who lets me know that we are not alone.
As strange as it sounds, I don’t plan on reading the book. I’m sure it’s very good, and I would recommend others do it. But, I don’t want to ruin that really cool feeling I got from listening to the interview. I think this is a case that the more I know, the less powerful the experience will remain. And, I want to hold onto this one for a bit.
Here’s a link with excerpts from the interview. It’s really brief. Please give it read. The language Lester uses to describe his son are insightful and beautiful.