My husband has a knack for naming film series. The Cleveland Cinematheque’s current schedule, for example, includes a series of nine movies by W.C. Fields cleverly dubbed “Fields Days.” Another series featuring a Swedish female director named Mai Zetterling is called “My, My, Mai.”
Because of his uncanny talent, I gave John the task of naming my Friday posts, intended to be about books and reading. He suggested “Fiction Fridays,” but I told him that I might want to write about non-fiction or poetry. After a few more false starts, he came up with “Weekend Editions,” which, though lacking alliteration, affords me a space to spill into Saturdays and Sundays. Opportunities to procrastinate are always welcome.
My husband expressed only one caveat. “Hopefully you won’t receive a cease and desist order from NPR,” he warned. Until I hear from the NPR lawyers, Weekend Editions will be closing out my blogging week, following Monday Meals and language and etymology on Word Wednesdays.
This week I’ve been thinking about a trend in popular culture featuring characters with Asperger’s syndrome or exhibiting traits of autism. Think Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler on TV’s “Big Bang Theory” and Claire Danes in the film “Temple Grandin.” If these portrayals can avoid becoming offensive and also help viewers learn about and accept differences, then that’s a good thing.
The Maid, a novel by Nita Prose, was recommended by someone I enjoy on YouTube. Knowing nothing else about it, I checked the book out of the library. On the first page, the narrator, Molly, a maid at a fancy hotel, says, “I’ve got simple, dark hair that I maintain in a sharp, neat bob. I part my hair in the middle—the exact middle. I comb it flat and straight. I like things simple and neat.” I certainly don’t begrudge people on the spectrum having a chance to see themselves on screen or in fiction, but I’ll admit to a sinking feeling as I read these lines.
It seems to me that characters with Asperger’s syndrome have become a little too prevalent, a little trite, a little commonplace. In this novel especially, Molly’s quirks become a heavy-handed novelistic device. You imagine a writer thinking, Unreliable narrators are interesting, right? What if our narrator had trouble reading other people’s intentions? What if she were deceived by nefarious people and framed with a crime? A genius could probably make this premise work. Here, though, Molly’s relentless misapprehensions seem exaggerated.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close—certainly autism and novels sometimes mix well. However, if right now you Google “Asperger’s fiction” or “characters with autism,” as many as thirty or forty titles pop up. Maybe you can think of examples yourself. At what point, I wonder, does a bona fide trend become merely trendy? Let me know what you think.