The story begins in 1968. A beautiful girl and her friend, a deaf black man, show up on the doorstep of a widow and retired schoolteacher, Martha. The beautiful girl is Lynnie, a developmentally disabled girl who has just given birth to a baby. The man is Homan, not intellectually challenged but limited in his ability to communicate because of his deafness and his lack of a proper education. The couple have run away from the School for the Feeble-Minded in which they have been, for all practical purposes, incarcerated, and now, having seen Martha’s lighthouse mailbox, they are hoping for a safe haven.
Rachel Simon also wrote the nonfiction memoir, Riding the Bus With my Sister, about her relationship with her developmentally disabled sister, a book that I appreciated and that later was adapted as a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. So Ms. SImon has some experience and expertise in thinking from the point of view of a mentally handicapped person. The book is written in shifting points of view, from Lynnie to Martha to Homan, and sometimes that shift and the limited knowledge of the characters made the book confusing. Still, I hung in there, willing to work at seeing through the eyes of a hearing-impaired black man who usually didn’t even know the real names of the people who were his most intimate friends and caretakers. Or I saw how confusing life could be from the point of view of a young woman who has a history and a personality but doesn’t understand time and the passage of time in the same that most us do.
I liked this book very much, and I especially liked the way Ms. Simon incorporated religion and religious experience into her story, naturally and with an absence of agenda or proselytizing. Lynnie’s family is Jewish, but Lynnie herself doesn’t understand “God” and doesn’t know if she believes in Him or not. Homan is befriended by a couple of maybe sincere, but probably money-hungry faith healers, and later by a couple who run a Buddhist retreat center. One of Lynnie’s most important mentors and friends is Kate, a Christian who works through her need to forgive and to repent of her own sins of omission and fearfulness.
The main themes of the book, though are not religion, per se. What Ms. Simon seems to be interested in relating is the infinite worth of every human being, the need of all people to be treated with dignity and respect, and the importance and the difficulties of clear and timely communication. It’s a good story within which is contained a capsule history of the changes in the treatment and public perception of both mentally handicapped and hearing impaired individuals.
Worth reading. What books can you recommend that have given you insight into the lives and needs of mentally disabled persons in particular?