The 26th book I read in 2016 was Life, Animated by Ron Suskind. This book is written by the father of an autistic boy. It tells the story of how his son Owen learned to communicate with people and understand the world through lessons drawn from animated Disney movies,which he has an intense love for. The problem with many books by the parents of autistic children is that the parents are not professional writers and thus their books are not very well written. Ron Suskind is an award winning journalist so this book is well written. The story itself is pretty amazing. It warmed my heart and it broke my heart. I found the way Owen was able to connect with people and learn about life through Disney characters fascinating.
I read a New York Times review of this book that caused an intense negative emotional reaction in me because of my own personal issues but my personal issues aside, I found the way the last part of it was written to be rather obnoxious. First it said that one of the flaws of the book is that there’s only so much talk about Disney characters a neurotypical reader can cheerfully take. Well, I guess since I’m not a neurotypical reader that wasn’t a problem for me.It said that the other flaw was that the book didn’t have the perfect happy fairy tale ending one would expect considering it centered around Disney characters. The review ended by saying that in real life, unlike in Disney, only some dreams come true.
Maybe I’m just smarter and more perceptive than the average reader but I was aware that real life is not like Disney before the reviewer so helpfully pointed that out and I harbored no illusions that this book would turn out like a Disney movie just because it dealt with Disney characters. Before coming to the brilliant conclusion that real life is not like a Disney movie, the reviewer pointed out that Owen has not achieved his dream of becoming a famous animator, his romantic relationship is unlikely to lead where a parent might hope, his time away at “college” does not correspond to what we think of as the typical college experience and he might never make it fully on his own.
So, at 25 Owen does not have a job that makes him rich and famous, his first romantic relationship probably won’t end in marriage, he has not received a bachelors degree from an accredited university that hosts a lot of drunken frat parties and he might need some help to get by in life. How very tragic. God knows there aren’t plenty of neurotypical 25 year olds in that same boat. There’s just nothing sadder than living a life that in some way deviates from the typical expectations that certain other people who are not living your life have! Then again, I don’t recall any of those Disney heroes going to college…
In case you couldn’t tell, that review hit a nerve with me. The movie did too. I didn’t like it nearly as much as I liked the book. It was presented mostly as a coming of age story and didn’t go in to great detail about the ways in which Owen used Disney characters to make sense of the social world like the book did. The movie also seemed rather exploitative of Owen and his girlfriend. Watching some of the recorded scenes between and about them made me uncomfortable. Owen’s girlfriend breaks up with him and I can’t help but wonder if the production of the movie had something to do with it. If my boyfriend’s brother was talking to him about french kissing me and those conversations were being broadcast to the world, I would have been out of there too.
Anyway, even though I wasn’t all that pleased with the movie or with some of the reviews of the book, I was very pleased with the book itself. Even though Owen is on a different end of the autism spectrum than I’m on, I could relate to a lot of his feelings and experiences. The book has inspired me to write a series of blogs about how I used animals to connect with the human social world but I have to warn you, my story doesn’t have a perfect, happy, Disney fairy tale ending wither.