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Mozart and the Whale: An Asperger's Love Story Paperback – November 6, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
The realization that "our community seemed to know more about the first twenty years of an autistic person's life than it did about the rest of that life" leads the Newports to tell their own boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-finds-girl love story—but with a difference, for both suffer from Asperger's syndrome. At times, this "terminal cluelessness" seems both the cause of and the least of their problems: Jerry's life "had drifted from one failed vocation to the next, [among them] pot dealer, horse-race betting fanatic, taxi driver, Goodwill bell ringer, bookstore cashier, elementary school librarian." Mary's more traumatic experiences included a cult marriage, abusive lovers and mental hospital stints. Both grapple with anxiety and despair before epiphanies: for Jerry, when he sees Rain Man; for Mary, when her brother directs her to the Autistic Society. Love for the two slips in the day they meet at a party for adult autistics. Then they experienced media fame, becoming "Mr. and Mrs. Autism" (a front-page profile in the Los Angeles Times; a 60 Minutes visit; an eponymous movie). Boy loses girl again in a divorce, but love triumphs. Along the way, autistic readers will find comforting fellowship, and general readers will acquire valuable knowledge. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A fantastic voyage into two different kinds of minds. Absolutely riveting." -- Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation
"Readers will be touched and inspired by this book that proves that against all odds, love does occasionally triumph over all." -- Tucson Citizen
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Top Customer Reviews
Jerry met Mary at a party for adults with AS organized by Jerry's Los Angeles-based group, AGUA (Adults Gathering, United and Autistic). He had attempted to fashion a whale costume expressing his adoration of Free Willy, and she arrived in the guise of Nannerl Mozart, the brilliant musician whose life was overshadowed by her famous brother. It wasn't exactly love at first sight, but when the two realized they both kept pet cockatiels it was sealed. A scant 20 weeks later they were married, both of them experiencing an exciting sense of being fully understood and intimately acceptable that had eluded them previously.
The book is written in tandem --- first Jerry speaks, then Mary, in episodes. It can become a little confusing even for the avid reader, because of its many time jumps and some repetitions. But if you were fascinated by the movie Rainman (as Jerry was, finding in it his first real affirmation), then you will want to take in the whole saga of Mary and Jerry.
Both had miserable childhoods filled with basic misunderstandings about how the world works and major rejections by family and peers. Of the two, Mary had "lived" most. Shunted away by her parents to a strict religious cult in mid-adolescence, she had two children and many lovers, lived in caves and deserts and the streets of San Francisco. Her only successful employment was as a piano tuner. A tall attractive woman with outbursts of extroversion, she admits that having AS isn't as difficult for a woman (it's also much rarer) because snagging ordinary men isn't the same problem for autistic women as getting normal women is for autistic men.
In college, Jerry once overheard his frat brothers talking about his remarkably high incidence of first dates. He usually could charm a woman sufficient to go out for coffee but soon found her interest waning, after which he might call her numerous times without success. He had no idea what ordinary people talk about, and little empathy for the feelings of others. He once had sex with a young woman and, immediately after the act, sincerely grilled her for ways to land a date with another girl he'd been trying to meet.
Despite his education, Jerry wound up driving a cab and living in desperate loneliness. Starting AGUA was a step out of the pit. Finding Mary was a relief and a learning experience.
In marriage much of the anger that the two had left unexplored came out --- at each other. Jerry had no problems expressing it, which caused his wife to fall into deeper and more crushing depressions. Having a "60 Minutes" show focus on their unusual relationship only added salt to the wounds. How they conquered their demons and learned to live with AS and each other is an adventure worth telling.
--- Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott
But even as Jerry lies miserable, waiting for the 60 pills he took to do their job, he's distracted. "For an instant, I started to obsess about the number sixty, mulling over what an interesting number it is and how I never imagined I'd die because of it. Sixty is the product of 2 times 2 times 3 times 5. Sixty is the number of degrees of arc covered by the side of a hexagon inscribed inside a circle. Each side equals the radius, and the hexagon is made of six equilateral triangles linked together. Fold them all outside and you get six more, forming a total of twelve which makes a Star of David with one equilateral triangle for each tribe of Israel...."
Jerry is a numbers savant who aced an actuarial exam without the prerequisite education, but couldn't get through the interview. He's worked mostly as a courier and a cab driver. Mary is an artistic savant. Painting and music are her passions and she, too, has had a series of jobs, including cook and hairdresser.
Taking off from the lowest point, they alternate chapters, tracing their lives from childhood and the frustrations and loneliness they felt trying to fit in. Much of it is painful; attempts to cope with confusion and alienation, bullying from other children, intense family dynamics. But there are joyous moments of epiphany and accomplishment - usually alone. And there is humor throughout.
Their early relationship is wildly joyous. They delight in each other's talents and eccentricities. But when they move in together things change. Jerry is regimented and insecure; Mary is spontaneous and unpredictable. Jerry is given to terrible tantrums, Mary is plagued by depression.
By the time they marry their relationship is hanging on by sheer will, rather than compromise and understanding. Neither of them are any good at reading non-verbal cues or putting themselves in the other's place. But neither wants to be alone and there are enough good times to put off the inevitable crash and burn.
The alternating chapters illuminate one another. There are surprises - things that loom large for one go unmentioned by the other, for instance, and the honesty, brutal at times, is both disarming and uncomfortable.
We know from the beginning that they reconcile. The learning curve as they begin to manage their demons and consider one another more deliberately is affecting and admirable.
The Newports' memoir offers an intimate window on life and love with Aspergers. Their quirks and brilliance enliven the narrative and show the reader a different perspective on the world. An eye-opening, heart-wrenching read, leavened with humor and hope.