email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?""My Madness Saved Me"10% Happier365 Days49 Up56 UpA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Book of ReasonsA Can of MadnessA Child's Life and Other StoriesA Dangerous LiaisonA Fight to BeA First-Rate MadnessA Good Enough DaughterA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusA Lethal InheritanceA Lethal InheritanceA Life ShakenA Life Worth LivingA Little PregnantA Message from JakieA Million Little PiecesA Numerate LifeA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyA Slant of SunA Special EducationA Tribe ApartAbout FaceAddicted Like MeADHD & MeAEIOUAgainst Medical AdviceAgents in My BrainAileen - Life and Death of a Serial KillerAlgernon, Charlie and IAll Out!All Seasons PassAlphavilleAlzheimer'sAn Anthropologist on MarsAn EducationAn Unquiet MindAngela's AshesAngelheadAnna Freud: A BiographyAnnie's GhostsAnother Bullshit Night in Suck CityAnthology of a Crazy LadyApples and OrangesApproaching NeverlandAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaAs I Live and BreatheAs Nature Made HimAt Home in the Heart of AppalachiaAt the End of WordsAvalancheBad BoyBad GirlBeautiful BoyBeautiful WreckBecoming AnnaBen Behind His VoicesBequest and BetrayalBereftBertrand RussellBlackoutBlanketsBloodlettingBodies in Motion and at RestBoneBorn on a Blue DayBoyBoy AloneBoyleBrain on FireBreaking ApartBreaking the SilenceBrokenBulimics on BulimiaBuzzCamus and SartreCharles DarwinChasing the HighCheeverCherryCity of OneCluesClumsyComfortComplications Compulsive ActsConfessions of a Cereal EaterConfessions of a Former ChildConfessions of a Grieving ChristianConfessions of the Other MotherConfidingConquering the Beast WithinContesting ChildhoodCrackedCrazyCry Depression, Celebrate RecoveryDamned to EternityDancing at the Shame PromDante's CureDaughter of the Queen of ShebaDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDays With My FatherDefeating the VoicesDementia Caregivers Share Their StoriesDepression and NarrativeDescartesDetourDevil in the DetailsDiagnosis: SchizophreniaDirty DetailsDirty SecretDivided MindsDivine MadnessDon't Get Too ComfortableDown Came the RainDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDrinkingDriving My FatherDrunkardDryEarly Embraces IIIEinsteinEinstein and OppenheimerElectroboyElegy for IrisElijah's CupElliott Smith and the Big NothingElsewhereEnough About YouEpilepticEvery Girl Tells a StoryEverything In Its PlaceExamined LivesExiting NirvanaFaces of Huntington'sFamily BoundFast GirlFearless ConfessionsFind MeFinding Iris ChangFirst Person Accounts of Mental Illness and RecoveryFirst Person PluralFixing My GazeFlanneryFolie a DeuxFor the Love of ItFortress of My YouthFranz KafkaFraudFree RefillsFreudFreudFriedrich NietzscheFrom Joy Division to New OrderFumblingFun HomeFuriously HappyGalileo Get Me Out of HereGirl in Need of a TourniquetGirl Walking BackwardsGirl, InterruptedGirl, InterruptedGirls on the VergeGoing BlindGoing Through Hell Without Help From AboveGraysonGrowing Up JungGuttedHalf a Brain Is EnoughHardcore from the HeartHead CasesHeal & ForgiveHeal & Forgive IIHeavier than HeavenHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHello from Heaven!Hello to All ThatHer HusbandHer Last DeathHigh PriceHole in My LifeHolidays On IceHolidays on IceHope's BoyHouse of Happy EndingsHouse of Happy EndingsHow I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill MeHow to Lose Friends & Alienate PeopleHow to Make Love Like a Porn Starhow to stop timeHumeHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurry Down SunshineI Feel Bad About My NeckI Never Promised You a Rose GardenI Remain in DarknessI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'd Rather LaughIf I Die Before I WakeImagining RobertIn Search of FatimaIn the Realms of the UnrealIn the Wake of SuicideInside TherapyInternInvisible No MoreIt Happened to NancyIt Takes a Worried ManJack Cole and Plastic ManJean-Paul SartreJohn Stuart MillJourneys with the Black DogJust CheckingKafkaKantLa SierraLab GirlLast Flight OutLearning to FallLet Me Make It GoodLife As We Know ItLife InterruptedLife ReimaginedLimboLincoln's MelancholyListening in the Silence, Seeing in the DarkLittle PeopleLive For Your Listening PleasureLive Through ThisLiving in the Shadow of the Freud FamilyLiving With SchizophreniaLiving with SchizophreniaLockeLonelyLong ShotLook Me in the EyeLooking for The StrangerLoose GirlLosing Mum and PupLosing My MindLove Is a Mix TapeLove SickLove Times ThreeLove Works Like ThisLove You, Mean ItLuckyLudwig WittgensteinLyingMad HouseMad PrideMadame ProustMadnessMagical ThinkingMalignant SadnessManicMarcel ProustMarcus AureliusMary BarnesMaverick MindMe Talk Pretty One DayMeaningMelanie KleinMemoirMemoirs of an Addicted BrainMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMen-ipulationMisconceptionsMiss American PieMockingbird YearsMomma and the Meaning of LifeMommies Who DrinkMonkey MindMore, Now, AgainMortificationMy Age of AnxietyMy Body PoliticMy Brain Tumour AdventuresMy DepressionMy Father's HeartMy First Cousin Once RemovedMy Flesh and BloodMy Horizontal LifeMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Sister LifeMy Stroke of InsightName All the AnimalsNeural MisfireNietzscheNietzsche: The Man and His PhilosophyNinety DaysNo Hurry to Get HomeNo Impact ManNo More ShavesNolaNotebooks 1951-1959NothingOdd Girl Speaks OutOedipus WreckedOf Spirits & MadnessOn Being RapedOn the Edge of DarknessOn the MoveOne Hour in ParisOne Hundred DaysOphelia SpeaksPagan TimePassing for NormalPeople Who Eat DarknessPerfect ChaosPerfect ExamplePermanent Present TensePersepolisPlanet of the BlindPlaying with FirePlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPoisoned LovePollockPOPismPortraits of Huntington'sPoster ChildProzac DiaryPsychiatrist on the RoadPsychosis in the FamilyPuppy Chow Is Better Than ProzacQuitting the Nairobi TrioRaising BlazeReasons to Stay AliveRebuiltRecovered, Not CuredRelative StrangerRescuing JeffreyRestricted AccessRevengeRewind, Replay, RepeatRichard RortyRiding the Bus With My SisterRobert Lowell, Setting the River on FireRoom For JRosemaryRough MagicRunning After AntelopeRunning with ScissorsScattershotSchizophreniaSchopenhauerSecond OpinionsSectionedSeeing EzraSeeing the CrabSet the Boy FreeSex & Single GirlsSex ObjectShakespeareShe Bets Her LifeShe Got Up Off the CouchShut the DoorSickenedSilencing the VoicesSimone de BeauvoirSinging in the FireSkin GameSlackjawSlut!SmashedSome Assembly RequiredSome Kind of GeniusSometimes Madness Is WisdomSongs from the Black ChairSongs of the Gorilla NationSoren KierkegaardSpeak to MeSpeaking Our Minds: Revised EditionSpecial SiblingsSpentStandbyStick FigureStill LivesStretchSunset StorySurviving OpheliaSwing LowTales from Both Sides of the BrainTales of PsychotherapyTalk to HerTellingTelling Tales About DementiaThe Accidental BillionairesThe AddictThe Anatomy of HopeThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe BeastThe Bell JarThe Best Seat in the HouseThe Body SilentThe Boy on the Green BicycleThe Boy Who Loved WindowsThe Buddha & The BorderlineThe Burn JournalsThe Camera My Mother Gave MeThe Cancer Monologue ProjectThe Center Cannot HoldThe Chelsea WhistleThe Churkendoose AnthologyThe Day the Voices StoppedThe Devil WithinThe DisappearanceThe Discomfort ZoneThe Doctor Is InThe Eden ExpressThe Family SilverThe Farm Colonies: Caring for New York City's Mentally Ill In Long Island's State HospitalsThe Fasting GirlThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Geography of BlissThe Glass CastleThe Good DoctorsThe Hillside Diary and Other WritingsThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Last AsylumThe Last Good FreudianThe Last Time I Wore a DressThe Liars' ClubThe Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet HiltonThe Lives They Left BehindThe LobotomistThe Long GoodbyeThe Looked After Kid: Memoirs from a Children's HomeThe Loony-Bin TripThe Madness of Our LivesThe Making of a PhilosopherThe Making of Friedrich NietzscheThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Man Who Shocked the WorldThe Man Who Tasted ShapesThe Marvelous Hairy GirlsThe Maximum Security Book ClubThe Me in the MirrorThe Memory PalaceThe Mercy PapersThe Mistress's DaughterThe Naked Bird WatcherThe Naked Lady Who Stood on Her HeadThe Night of the GunThe Noonday DemonThe Notebook GirlsThe NursesThe Only Girl in the CarThe Orchid ThiefThe Other HollywoodThe OutsiderThe Philosopher's Autobiography The Philosophical Breakfast ClubThe Philosophical IThe Pits and the PendulumThe Pornographer's GriefThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner The Professor and the MadmanThe Psychopath TestThe Quiet RoomThe Red DevilThe Rescue of Belle and SundanceThe Ride TogetherThe Rules of the TunnelThe Secret of LifeThe Shaking Woman or A History of My NervesThe Shared HeartThe Shiniest JewelThe Siren's DanceThe Statistical Life of MeThe Story of My FatherThe Strange Case of Hellish NellThe Summer of a DormouseThe SurrenderThe Talking CureThe Thought that CountsThe Three of UsThe Vagina MonologuesThe Velveteen FatherThe Winter of Our DisconnectThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaThe Years of Silence are PastThe Yellow HouseThe Yipping TigerThick As ThievesThinTiger, TigerTits, Ass, and Real EstateTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTo Walk on EggshellsTransforming MadnessTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTruth Comes in BlowsTuesdays with MorrieTweakTwitch and ShoutUltimate JudgementUndercurrentsUnholy GhostUnlikelyVoices of AlcoholismVoices Of Alzheimer'sVoices of CaregivingVoices of RecoveryVoluntary MadnessWaiting for DaisyWar FareWashing My Life AwayWastedWaveWe're Not MonstersWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWeekends at BellevueWhat Did I Do Last Night?What Goes UpWhat I Learned in Medical SchoolWhat's Normal?When a Crocodile Eats the SunWhen Breath Becomes AirWhen Do I Get My Shoelaces Back?.....When It Gets DarkWhen the Piano StopsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhere Did It All Go Right?Where is the Mango Princess?Where the Roots Reach for WaterWhile the City SleptWhile They SleptWho Was Jacques Derrida?Why I'm Like ThisWildWill's ChoiceWinnicottWinnieWish I Could Be ThereWith Their EyesWomen Living with Self-InjuryWomen, Body, IllnessWrestling with the AngelYou Must Be DreamingYour Voice in My HeadZeldaZor
Priscilla Gilman's story starts when she is a graduate student in English at Yale, working on her Ph.D. dissertation on Wordsworth. She was born in New York City, and her father, the critic Richard Gilman, had done some teaching at Yale. Her father was a complex man who from her brief account seemed to give a great deal emotionally, but also to demand a great deal. Her mother ran a literary agency. Her parents divorced when she was young. She had always interested in being a writer, but her parents encouraged her strongly to pursue a PhD. She had been engaged to a son of Mia Farrow and Andre Previn, although that had not worked out. She gives a picture of an intense and rather difficult childhood. She took time off when she was an undergraduate to read Proust in French and undergo psychoanalysis.
When she started graduate school, she met her future husband, Richard. They soon started dating, brought together both by a love of their studies and a deep wish to have children. They soon married and in a few years Gilman was pregnant. Their son Benjamin was linguistically gifted, and Priscilla and Richard were thrilled about his talents. They noticed his differences but accepted them unconditionally. They were alarmed a few years later when a pre-school who interviewed him recommended that he be tested, and he was found to have hyperlexia. This is a rare condition that may be related to autism and while those with it have great facility with words, they have difficulty with understanding, communication, and social skills. The bulk of the memoir tells the story of how Gilman and her husband came to terms with the condition, searched to get the best treatment for Benj, celebrated his successes and changed their conceptions of what they wanted from their children. It is also the story of their marriage and eventual separation, her success as an academic and her subsequent choice to leave the academic life, and the evolving relationships between them and their family members.
The book is distinctive in several ways. It's a memoir of being a parent of special-needs child, a growing genre. Most of the reviews at Amazon.com are from people approaching the book from this perspective. As such, it is an interesting account because of the unusual condition Benj has, and the ways that Gilman makes decisions about medication, schools, and home-life, especially because she and her husband separate and make special arrangements to as not to disrupt the lives of their two sons too much.
It is more unusual in being an account by an academic of being in such a situation. It can be compared to English professor Michael Berube's 1996 memoir Life As We Know It, about learning to be a parent to Jamie, his son with Down syndrome. While Berube's memoir was mainly political and philosophical in its meanderings, Gilman is far more literary, and she refers to and quotes Wordsworth and other poets frequently. She characterizes Benj as the "anti-romantic child" because he is in most ways very far from the ideal of childhood found in the movement of Romanticism. Benj is a very literal child who does not engage in imaginary play, while the Romantics place imagination at the heart of life and prize it above all other qualities. They celebrated emotion and subjectivity, and in particular, Wordsworth celebrates the bond between mother and child and the carefree life of children investigating the world. Yet Gilman and her son did not have an easy relationship when he was a baby; she was alienated from him. As he grew, he continued to be different from other babies and toddlers, although things got easier in some ways, and more difficult in others.
Gilman discusses her feelings about academic life and how her experience as a mother of Benj changed her feelings about jumping through the hoops required to succeed. Although she had tenure-track positions at Yale and then Vassar, and so had excellent students and very supportive departments, she was not able to spend her time focusing on the literature she loved, and she had to discuss the secondary literature. She eventually decided that she would be better off leaving academia and working in the publishing business, where she could earn more money. From the start of the story, she is subtly critical of her husband Richard, and she explains at length how long suffering she was in putting up with his problems in finishing his work. It is only through her that he got a job at the schools she taught, due to being her spouse. Indeed, although she hated to say it, Benj's problems are very similar to those of Richard's, and so the implication is that Benj inherited them from his father.
It is fair enough for a memoir writer to give their side of the story of a failed marriage, but readers will wonder what version of events Richard would give, and how well they would match that of Gilman. It is also puzzling why Gilman left the activity of studying Wordsworth altogether in order to work in publishing and presumably to write her memoir. Would she have got tenure if she had stayed at Vassar? Only a few people would be in a position to say, and Gilman herself would not know for sure. But in her version of events, she is the hero of her story and she is in control of her destiny, although of course she has to change her vision of Benj's future from what she had envisaged when she had previously imagined her motherhood. The memoir is largely her account of how she came to accept this change in her life.
That's not to say that the work is just an extension of Gilman's psychoanalysis, more about her than it is about anyone else. It is very much about Benj and how boys like him fit in the world. It is a defense of a Wordsworthian approach that is tolerant of difference and does not insist that all children be assessed by the same measures. It is a celebration of Benj's individuality, showing how the standard descriptions of hyperlexia fail to capture his strengths; one of the more moving parts of the book is the final section, which is a more abstract yet passionate discussion and criticism of some standard approaches to special education. She says that Benj has taught her a great deal about poetry, inspiration and the creative process; so her book is also about Wordsworth's central themes.
While Gilman's account of her life may be more subjective than she herself suggests in her tone, this possibility does not undermine the book. Indeed, The Anti-Romantic Child is one of the most thoughtful and powerful available accounts of being the parent of a child with developmental disabilities, and it deserves to be widely read for many years to come. It's a work of originality and inspiration that could help not only parents, but also teachers, clinicians, and policy-makers.
Gilman herself reads the unabridged audiobook. The fact that it is the author reading makes a difference because her performance of Benj's voice carries authority, since she knows better than anyone how he speaks. One might suspect that the performance was overenthusiastic if she were not Benj's mother. The reading is warm and compassionate.
Link: Harpercollins website
© 2011 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York