Boy Alone: A Brother's Memoir
These two memoirs explore life with an autistic family member.
Sibling rivalry—and love—of a ravaging kind is the subject of this unsparing memoir of the author's life with his severely autistic brother. Journalist Greenfeld (Standard Deviations ) describes his brother, Noah, as a “spitting, jibbering, finger-twiddling, head-bobbing idiot”; unable to speak or clean himself and given to violent tantrums, Noah and his utter indifference to others makes him permanently “alone.” But Karl feels almost as alienated; with his parents preoccupied with Noah's needs (and Noah's celebrity after his father, Joshua, wrote a bestselling account of his illness in A Child Called Noah ), he turns to drugs and petty crime in the teenage wasteland of suburban Los Angeles. Greenfeld doesn't flinch in his depiction of Noah's raging dysfunctions or his critique of a callous mental health-care system and arrogant autism-research establishment. (He's especially hard on the psychoanalytic theories of the “Viennese charlatan” Bruno Bettelheim.) But the author's self-portrait is equally lacerating; he often wallows in self-pity—“I return home stoned, drunk, puking on myself as I sit defecating into the toilet, crying to my parents... that I am a failure”—and owns up to the coldness that Noah's condition can provoke in him. The result is a bleak but affecting chronicle of a family simultaneously shattered and bound tight by autism. (May)