“I’m always hearing about how my brain doesn’t work right… But it doesn’t feel broken to me”
Beth is left alone in her large house coping with three children after she evicts her philandering husband; Olivia arrives on Nantucket seeking solitude and refuge after her only child, the demanding and all-consuming focus of her life for eight years, dies young. Beth finds herself turning back to her writing amid a crisis of self, inspired by a unique boy in her dreams who struggles to move between rooms of his brain and loves Always Rules. Olivia discovers a talent for photography which forces her out of her sanctuary of a house. They will be each other’s salvation.
Olivia and Beth are both strong, interesting women who are very normal – both of them sacrificed their identify for the sake of a more demanding section of the family unit. Both have an inherent creative gift which they only discover later in life, but they deal with personal tragedy in very different ways – Olivia’s stoic silence and shut-off-ness from the rest of the island contrasts strongly with Beth and her support network of her children and her friends. As in When It Happens To You, the men in this book are generally negatively characterised – they’re all a bit useless. Jimmy is lazy, smokes, is in an apparently dead-end job, and causes the crisis that takes over Beth’s storyline. Olivia’s husband David is also gone, although I was never really sure why – he seems like a nice guy and nothing seemed to happen to tear them apart other than Anthony’s autism and death (I know is sounds odd to say that’s nothing, but I don’t see why they should have broken up because of it). Beth’s book club friends’ husbands are almost non-existent.
Genova interleaves the lives of the two women skilfully and neatly; it took a while to realise how they would meet and then a while longer before they did, but that their experiences of Nantucket are so different while they obviously visit the same places helps with the dual storyline idea.
I don’t know anyone autistic, so I can’t judge how valid the imagined perspective of Anthony is (although “if you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism”, so maybe Genova could pick pretty much any interpretation and it would be true for at least one child…). But hers was consistent and understandable and rationalised Anthony’s behaviour, so certainly better than I expected.
While Genova spends a fair amount of time with Olivia’s frustrations as parent to an autistic child and then imagines her way into Anthony’s mind, there is also a lot of other stuff going on – especially Beth’s story, her marriage, her children, her friends – which, while well-written and I wasn’t about to put the book down at any time, is a distraction from the autism line and will, I think, negatively impact the reception of the book. Genova has written about Alzheimer’s and Left Neglect syndrome in the past – I’ve only read Left Neglected but it had a reasonable amount of science/imagined experience of a certain mental disability and stuck almost exclusively to that theme. I’m concerned that Love Anthony, while imaginative and looking at the parent’s perspective too, will lose some credibility for its slightly chick-lit style (which is not really alluded to in the blurb); it is a well-written piece of women’s fiction dealing with family issues, rather than a novel about living with autism, in a family context.
I did love the idea of therapeutic cooking though.