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Autism

Review of "Eye Contact"

By Cammie McGovern
Highbridge Audio, 2006
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Aug 29th 2006
Eye Contact

Eye Contact is a mystery about the murder of 10-year-old Amelia.† She was found, stabbed, in some woods opposite her school, with her friend Adam.† Adam, 9 years old, is autistic.† He is not a suspect, but he probably has valuable information about the murder.† Unfortunately, he stops talking and regresses to forms of behavior he had grown out of years ago.† His mother Cara, a 30-year-old single woman, does not know what to do.† Nothing seems to work.† She asks a local middle school boy, 13-year-old Morgan, to come round and play with Adam, and that seems to help.† Eventually, details about Cara's life and her friends start to come together, and the reader will form some suspicions about who killed Amelia.†

McGovern tackles some big issues in the course of the mystery, and indeed, the solution is so complex that it seems both implausible and unsatisfying.† It seems she is really interested in the mothering of children with problems -- what it takes to be a good mother, how mothers cope, how to relate to an autistic child, what motivates caring for disabled children, how nondisabled children react to disabled children -- and the mystery is just a hook to hang the other issues on.† Eye Contact is an unusual book, and certainly interesting even if it does not cohere so well.†

Some parts of the novel are unsettling.† Cara's childhood friend Kevin is an odd character who proves central to the plot.† When they were both children, he had an accident that left him with a speech defect and major health problems.† Cara wanted to look after him, but she also found that difficult and backed away from him.† Over the years, her relationship with him remained complicated, and she never seems comfortable with him.† She has a much more straightforward friendship with Suzette, who she feels very close to.† But that friendship ends suddenly and bizarrely, and it is not clear why.† McGovern skips between different characters and different years, and we see the ways that different people are connected to each other.† Nevertheless, the overall effect is disjointed and unsettling.

The relationship between Cara and her son Adam is the most successful part of the novel -- it is always a relief when McGovern gets back to this, and the book feels as if it is losing direction when it makes it large detours from this center.†† We come to understand Adam fairly quickly, and Cara's complex character is intriguing.† Nearly every character is damaged in some way, making the experience of reading the book rather draining.† Yet we also see the strengths of each individual, and this is presumably one of the salutary features of the novel.† Ultimately, Eye Contact is not so much a story about autism but more about caring for children with autism, and that's an important topic.

The performance of the unabridged audiobook by Julia Fletcher is strong and energetic.† Fletcher keeps the voices distinct, and yet her voice is a quite hard and strong, which matches Cara.†

 

© 2006 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.

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