Our second notable narrative for this month chronicles dual transformations. An autistic young man who had found his footing collapses into rage and violence. And a mother who once wrote of her son’s autism as a gift allows him to be locked up, shocked, and given “buckets full of dangerous, doping drugs” for fear that he might kill someone.
Ann Bauer uses relentless dissonance to tell her story, which appeared on Salon.com. Her son has completed pre-calculus, yet the only school available to him teaches him how to count change. The son unloads his anger on others, while his mother turns inward to thoughts of suicide, caching 80 sleeping pills.
The friction between the outside world and Bauer’s family life generates an innovative chronological structure. “Feb. 14” registers not as Valentine’s Day, but as the date Bauer reads a newspaper story about an autistic son who beat his mother to death. On the day her son should have graduated from high school, he sits in a psych ward of the Mayo Clinic. At an inauguration night party, Bauer finds herself stumped by a Barack Obama trivia game. “I surveyed the crowd of happy, shining faces,” she writes. “People were wearing buttons, T-shirts, even necklaces that spelled out ‘hope.’ This struck me as sinister and somewhat rude. Hope was bullshit.”
The power of all this dissonance leads the reader to the brink of despair—but Bauer herself arrives there first, wishing for “something as simple as cancer” to bring her son “early death” rather than the struggle he now faces. In the wake of earlier, more optimistic pieces on autism from this writer, “Monster” is searing testimony.