A History of My Body
(Genoa House)Blanche Fleur is an expert on certain aspects of relativistic and nonrelativistic quantum mechanics, with a special interest in Schrodinger operations --- essentially, the interconnectedness of everything. What she hopes to do is to "facilitate rematerialization" ... that is, make it possible for us to separate out particles, transmit them to other locations, and there rejoin them.
Through this procedure, you and I will be able to be teletransported this evening to a three-star Michelin restaurant in Rouen, have a superb meal with superb wine, and then be dematerialized and returned to our bedroom in Nutley. That's Fleur's field, and she's so good at it that she wins the Nobel Prize.
Also: she's thirteen years old. And autistic. And, mysteriously, although she's also only thirteen, during the course of the novel she gives her thoughts on cats, black holes, Hindu gods and goddesses, the Fibonacci constant, George Bush politics, human isolation, glowing emanations from the body, American drug companies, ADHA, Proust, Buddhism, Indian cooking, morality in the Ramayana ... and about ten thousand other things, some exotic, others not so.
Like love. Fleur has attacks of lust around beautiful young men, gets pregnant (courtesy of one of these young Hispanics with nice muscles and lurid tattoos), has an abortion along with post-partum depression, and finally takes the vow. All this before age fourteen.
You think your life is crazy. Try living as a autistic juvenile. It means in attacks of anxiety you will continually be slapping yourself, pinching yourself, "flapping," making lists, uttering strange sounds ... and then you'll wake up in the middle of the night to stew about the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
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Fleur is a moderately interesting character and The History of My Body takes us for a moderately interesting spin, although I do wish she would stop going on and on (and on) about her cat, for a good author doesn't have to repeat the telling details too often. We know that your average autistic can have fixations on, say, animals, but readers don't need to be slapped over the head with cat boxes and cat barf every ten pages.
Fleurrie's father is a triple whammy pain for all concerned (Senator, anti-abortion fanatic, iceberg) and when her mother gets over being a drunk, she can be pretty tiresome too (AA meetings, lots of coffee) ... although she does come up with one of the better quotes on sexism. When quizzed about her ex-husband's apparent distaste for his own daughter, she says, "I think it's all down to his fear of women."
Did you know that, thousands of years ago, everyone worshipped goddesses and not gods? They thought women had the power to make babies on their own. Once men figured out they were a necessary part of the process, they decided their children belonged more to them and they could dictate what women did with their own bodies.
"Like most men," she concludes, "your father can't stand anyone of the opposite sex who shows signs of being anything but subservient."
Anyone who has pimples and blackheads and her first period and at the same time proves that black holes are not only out there but meandering around somewhere in our own bodies as well deserves world attention, and ours too. We understand that her need to make lists (the six items in the family's Thanksgiving dinner; the different roses in the garden) all go with the territory of autism. But being a teenager and being a genius on the order of Einstein (he was autistic too) are sometimes almost too much for her and the reader.
It is as if the author, like many of her characters, wants to stuff too much into one unlikely adolescent. In Heath's next novel she may want to sharpen her story-telling a bit more, and get a sharp-eyed editor to do some cutting. I dumped History about three chapters from the end which is rare for me, for after I have invested a couple of days in a book, I don't want to want out because of repetition. The author is resourceful, has a distinctive voice ... and I hope she learns the hard literary work of keeping us involved, make it so we are unwilling to lay her book down near the end. We don't want the option, at this stage, of abandoning a novel as it is still unfolding.--- Lolita Lark