Dispatches from Ray’s Planet: A Journey Through Autism
Caitlin Press (Halfmoon Bay, B.C., 2020)
$24.95 | 236pp.
Claire Finlayson’s brother Ray is different. Some call him eccentric, others think he is tone deaf to social propriety and plain rude. Others think he is on the autism spectrum or suffers from Asperger’s syndrome.
One thing is certain: He has not mastered the many implicit rules and conventions of small talk, and time spent with Ray can be full of shocks and surprises.
For most of her life, Finlayson has struggled to understand and connect with her beloved, baffling brother. Dispatches from Ray’s Planet is a fascinating and well-written account of that effort, and a compellingly drawn character study.
Actually, make that a double character study. While Ray, with all his eccentricities and his scorn for the neurotypical masses and our baffling social rules — he refers to it as speaking “Goongbalong” — is at the centre of this book, Finlayson also gives the reader a nuanced and sophisticated sense of her own character, and how it changed over the years of her attempts to understand her brother.
Both Ray and the author are presented as rounded, complex characters with flaws and strengths, foibles and failures, triumphs and terrors. The narrative is well paced, and the prose is polished.
The reader learns not only of embarrassing moments with Ray, but also of his love for free diving, music, chess, poetry and for children, for many of whom he is a cherished playmate, tutor and companion.
This is a book that will enthrall readers who have loved Donna Williams’ Nobody Nowhere, the classic memoir from a woman who literally wrote herself out of autistic isolation. Other readers may be reminded of the fierce spirit and comic inventiveness of Sarah Kurchak’s
But let’s give Ray the final word. On his sister’s webpage, he writes: “Claire makes me look more interesting than I am, but I think you’ll enjoy these stories anyway — and learn something, too. We Aspies do not think of ourselves as ‘broken’ — but we do know that we are very different from you natives. Do not try to ‘fix’ us (we think it is you who are broken), but please understand that we really don’t want to upset you even if it seems we are doing it on purpose. We aren’t. We just don’t understand your game.”
Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at email@example.com
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