Friday, February 17, 2012

Of Such Small Differences

Of Such Small Differences
by Joanne Greenberg


This is an amazing book, but the author who wrote I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. It's a love story about a deafblind young man named John, and an able-bodied woman named Leda. John was born blind, and became deaf as a child. He can speak and use ASL but communicates primarily through fingerspelling. He lives on his own, and works in sheltered workshop, where he meets Leda, an aspiring actress who works as a van driver.

Greenberg had extensive contact with the Deaf and deafblind communities, through her husband, a social worker, and her experience lends authenticity and realism to the story. This is not a romance, but a realistic, deeply affecting, poetic novel. The entire novel is narrated entirely from John's point of view, a stunning accomplishment. He's also a poet, and the poetic descriptions of how he encounters the world are amazing. But it also means that we as readers get as bewildering and incomplete a view of the world as he does. The experience of reading an entire book narrated this way gives a tiny glimpse of how difficult it is for him, and as a result the reading experience is sometimes exhausting.

The book was originally published in 1989, and it is quite dated, actually it seemed like it was set in the 70s. Leda is a self-absorbed hippie, as are her flaky actor friends. John was educated in residential schools, and the book reveals the abuses possible in those schools, and the deep scars institutionalization leaves on his psyche. Greenberg makes many sharp observations about disability, the cultures among disabled people, and of the social workers, interpreters, and volunteers who help them.

John is a fascinating, resilient character, but so many bad things happen to him, it's a bit upsetting. His family is nightmarish. But what really bothered me the most was Leda. She's so selfish and thoughtless, I just wanted to smack her. Still, the dev factor was really high for me, and I highly recommend the book.

Sadly, it's been out of print for a long time, but there are used copies floating around. It's definitely worth searching out. Watch out though, for some reason all the reviews on Amazon spoil the entire plot.

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