Books Unfinished: Twin, by Allen Shawn

I usually don’t do a separate post on my DNF (did not finish) books, but I started writing this one up for a Sunday Salon and it was getting lengthy, so … a separate post it is. 
I was really looking forward to reading Twin, a memoir by Allen Shawn. It’s about his relationship with his twin sister Mary, who has autism and intellectual disabilities. Like many families in the 1950s who had a developmentally disabled child at home, the Shawns “sent Mary away” at the age of 8 to live in an institution. (Shawn wrote a previous memoir, Wish I Could Be There that seems to touch on similar ground.)

Twin caught my attention for several reasons. Having just finished Rachel Simon’s The Story of Beautiful Girl, this was intriguing. Shawn’s family background – his father was editor of The New Yorker magazine – is compelling. There’s a local connection (Mary is institutionalized here in Delaware, apparently still to this day). And, as a parent of twins (one of whom has autism), I am interested to read about the relationship (especially that of twins) between siblings with disabilities.

Unfortunately, that last factor was the reason for my abandoning it – because I wasn’t getting as much of that as I expected. Shawn begins his memoir with a lengthy description of the history of autism (we get reintroduced to our old friends Leo Kanner, Hans Asperger, and the like). There was, at least in the first 35 pages, way too much of this talk, particularly the work of Bruno Bettelheim. And that’s where Shawn lost me. You can’t escape being an autism mom without the ghost of Bettelheim’s “refrigerator mom” accusations hanging over your head. Whereas most of the time I can deal with that and shrug it off, I’m just not in a frame of mind right now to do so. I skimmed ahead a bit, and most of the sections I read seemed to focus more on Shawn’s career as a composer and his family’s issues, moreso than his relationship with Mary.

I’m kind of in the minority with this, though.  Here are some other more positive reviews:

Largehearted Boy

The New York Times (1/9/2011)

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Thanks for sharing this post!