Sunday, August 07, 2016

Brenda Shaughnessy, Our Andromeda

A friend loaned me her copy of Brenda Shaughnessy's Our Andromeda because our daughters, very different from each other, occupy worlds unlike those known by most children. The final section of the book, which shares its title, explores another of those kinds of worlds, one occupied by her own son. I haven't read a more lovely, painful poetic sequence about children in a long time, and it's such a valuable piece about neuro-atypical kids and their families.

About the silence that such struggling families often hear from families with typical kids:
Why on earth would it be the closest,
dearest friends to shit the most toxically
on a sad new family struggling to find
blessing where blessings were? (p.121)
Not fair, sure, but an enormous guilt dwells within the relief one feels at someone else's pain. Calvin Shaughnessy was born alive, in which he was a miracle like the rest of us, but kids like Cal aren't celebrated by the people around their families. Their families are celebrated, though, for overcoming the challenges that such children represent: as if our children are in essence burdens, curses, afflictions.

In brief, the basic concept is that Andromeda represents a place where the suffering can find a lasting peace. Cal is on Earth, rather than Andromeda, and so his pain can't be genuinely acknowledged or recompensed. Shaughnessy is by turns wistful, pleading, apologetic, and angry, and that's about right. Andromeda isn't available, isn't accessible, and the more clearly you can imagine needing such a place, the worse that need gets.

The thing about reading the book, for me, was simply that I couldn't wait to get to the sections about Cal, about Brenda Shaughnessy as mother. And I understood, in the end, that I was refusing everything else about her in deference to her status as mother to an atypical child. Maybe I thought I was justifiably looking to understand myself a little better, to look for connections, but my seeing was so partial, so limited, that it's hard for me to distinguish this pursuit from the deficient way of seeing that parents like us object to from others.

There's other terrific stuff in Our Andromeda, to be sure. But that's not what I went to this book for, and I can't find the same intensity when I'm reading the other sections. If you want to know how a more well-rounded reader would come to this book, you'll have to go someplace else: Hilton Als in the New Yorker, say, who perceptively describes the book as "a series of narratives that resist interpretation but not feeling." For this book, I'm just not that kind of reader.

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