One of the big social trends of our time seems to be that of labels as excuses. People identify themselves (and/or their loved ones) as suffering from various polysyllabic disorders, alphabet-soup syndromes, and genetic-environmental afflictions. Because of their condition(s), they "deserve" preferential treatment. They can't be held responsible to the same standard of polite behavior as everybody else. They're "special".

The obvious fallacy of this is the old categorical imperative: taken to the logical conclusion there's nobody left who isn't special in some way, and therefore nobody remaining to be taxed, exploited, sacrificed, or otherwise pay the bill for the privileged victims. (It's a shame to sound like Ayn Rand on this issue, but once in a while she did light a candle.)

Which brings me to Mark Haddon's 2003 novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It's a fast read and certainly makes good use of a "different" conceit: the viewpoint character is a quasi-autistic 15-year-old, perhaps suffering from Aspberger's Syndrome.

But the book is ultimately unsatisfying for a number of reasons. The prose is pedestrian (perhaps deliberately so, but that doesn't make it worthwhile). The science and mathematics, meant to illustrate the mental processes of a young savant, are insufficiently clever to persuade anyone with a little knowledge of the subject. (The simple analytic-geometric theorem offered in the Appendix is particularly clumsy in its proof.) Plot is almost nonexistent, as is characterization. Worst, the narrative feels extraordinarily derivative in multiple dimensions, with distractingly loud echoes of:

Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed reading Curious Incident, in a guilty-pleasure sort of mood. I found myself identifying with the narrator in a surprising number of ways. (Hey, I'm "special" too!) But I doubt I'll revisit the book any time soon.

And getting back to the question of special treatment for those with special needs: as is probably obvious, I'm a soft-hearted (or maybe soft-headed?!) fellow who likes to hold doors open for folks who need extra help, for whatever reasons. But I also prefer to minimize self-delusion and maximize honesty. If somebody gets a head start and somebody else has to suffer a handicap, that should be documented and made obvious to all. Fairness is one thing; fiction is another.

(see also JustDesserts (20 Dec 1999), NoblesseOblige (15 Jan 2000), ItUsuallyBeginsWithAynRand (29 Sep 2003), ...)

TopicLiterature - TopicMind - TopicSociety - TopicPhilosophy - 2005-03-10

(correlates: SherlockHolmes, MathematicalMagic, MothersDay, ...)