Exiting Nirvana

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Autism is a disorder that challenges the autistic, and all who interact with them. Its manifestations are bizarre and beyond the scope of our general understanding. Clara Claiborne Park chronicles her daughter’s development from childhood to her forties, with the exactitude of a statistician, and the loving heart of a mother. Jessy now works and contributes to society, but her “exit from Nirvana” was not easy, and is not yet complete.

Park explores the “systems” that drive Jessy’s thinking: a logic unknown to us. The rules and systems we live by, the usual connections that young children make automatically between people, the life experiences that bond us to one another, were beyond Jessy’s understanding. Her world was isolationist. Grasping the notion of shared experience was a tedious process. Her many odd obsessions were soothing to her. Our world provoked, upset, and caused anxiety. Slowly, Jessy learned the rudiments of language, reading, and the necessary reciprocity of everyday social interactions. Slowly, she left her inner world, and entered into ours.

Behavior modification helped. She now follows social rules, such as: one cannot scream at work. Still unsure why that must be, Jessy is adapting. She is sharing her world, and her talents. A gifted painter, Jessy’s paintings reveal a bit of her secret world, while connecting her to ours. They have brought her some attention, but it is the rote predictability of her job in the mailroom that brings both order and joy to her life.

This is a candid look at the devastating, the inspiring, the odd and the ordinary realities of autism. It is a close-up picture of autism with no filter: a must read for individuals living with autism, and for professionals as well.