Back in 2003, Mark Haddon's terrific debut novel The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time hit and clung to bestseller lists for months on end. Its blend of mystery and a unique point of view—the perspective of an autistic boy, as pieced together from Haddon's work with autistics—proved irresistibly popular. But fans jonesing for a sequel shouldn't wait on Haddon, whose latest work is a poetry collection. They'd be far better off seeking out Kamran Nazeer's Send In The Idiots for an even more informed and unmistakably real-world perspective on what Haddon's protagonist might be like as an adult.
As an autistic child, Nazeer attended a privately funded New York school program where he and his classmates were painstakingly taught to relate to other people, understand facial expressions, and verbalize their feelings, among other lessons autistics typically struggle with. As an adult with several degrees and a British civil-service job, Nazeer sought out some of his childhood classmates to determine how they function as grownups. While his book is full of anecdotes and narratives about their current lives, jobs, relationships, problems, and coping mechanisms, those stories serve as a jumping-off point for a scholarly yet comfortably approachable Freakonomics-style discursive essay that touches on subjects ranging from changing political styles to uses and misuses of the word "genius" to theories on the purpose and methods of conversation. Along the way, Nazeer explains autism from the inside, from historical views to illuminating personal experiences.
Nazeer's portraits of his former classmates are touching and revelatory. One, a computer programmer, speaks through homemade puppets when he gets tongue-tied; another, a Democratic speechwriter (whose childhood obsessive-compulsive phrase-repetition gives Send In The Idiots its title) intricately orders and organizes words for other people, though he can't give speeches himself. A third committed suicide, and her parents stand in for her, discussing her life and its challenges. Still, while Nazeer investigates their setbacks and successes closely, he avoids sentiment or even overt sympathy; he clinically analyzes their actions, while documenting his own obsessive behaviors and communication difficulties just as thoroughly. In the process, he resists any attempts to glorify or idealize autism, and he shows how common that process is, and how it dehumanizes its subjects. In the process, he shunts aside much of the discomfort of disability, and capably dismisses autism myths and mysteries alike.