Friday, March 4, 2016

The World Through Alien Eyes

Review: A Whole Lot by Bradley Wind

Once in a while, a book introduces us to an entirely alien point of view. In A Whole Lot, we meet the savant Abel Velasco, an early-teen boy with an incredible memory, and the ability to see patterns and solve advanced mathematical puzzles. 

Unless you yourself are an Aspergers-afflicted savant, Abel's concept of the world he lives in is weirdly distorted. (But if you did have Asperger's Syndrome, you would not be likely to be reading fiction, anyway.)

There are echoes here of other fictional savants: Abel's interaction with his high-school AP math teacher has an eerie similarity to Matt Damon's easy solution of the hall blackboard problem in Good Will Hunting. His strained relationship with his aunt and older sister and the open ease of his friendship with the black garage owner have a distinct flavor of the real and illusionary characters who lived with (and in) John Nash in A Beautiful Mind. And Abel's obsessive numbering of letters and inability to cross a lawn unless he can step in dog piles is reminiscent of Christopher Boone, the autistic boy-detective in Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

In addition to the fascinating glimpses into the extremes of high-functioning autism, the story presents an intriguing mystery with a twist: will the numbered Hebrew Bible Abel finds in the local "haunted house" provide a clue to the deaths of its occupants? In his quest to solve the puzzle, Abel must step away from his familiar routines and places, stretch his mind, and open his world in amazing new ways.

Bradley Wind researched the topic of autism at various functional levels, and chose an atypical case to write about:
Dr. Darold A. Treffert, author of "Extraordinary People," consultant for the movie "Rain Man" and expert on savant syndrome wrote to me: "Savant syndrome typically is present from birth as a part of some developmental disorder, including autism. But there are also cases of what I call "acquired savant" syndrome following head injury. The Acquired Savant raises interesting questions about the little Rain Man that might reside, perhaps, within us all." Notes from the Author, online, emphasis mine

Liner Notes:

  • Each chapter begins with a "numbered conversation" that provides a running puzzle through the book, separate from the mystery Abel is trying to solve. I have to admit, the chapter puzzle has defeated me so far.  Obviously, my own "little Rain Man" lies too deep inside me to assist me with its solution. (Wind has requested, if you do solve it, not to share the solution online. I might be simply complying with his request. But I'm not; I really haven't been able to read the message.)
  • This is a book I got free from Kindle Scout. This is like a crowd-funding site where "pledges" are paid for by your nomination of up to three books at a time. If your nomination is selected for publication, you get a free copy.