In this first novel, the narrator lives on upland farm with her husband of 24 years, Duncan, and her son and “jailor” Sam, 12, who is undoubtedly autistic. Intermixed with Alice’s thoughts we have Sam’s conversation with his “27 friends” on facebook, who answer his queries as he tries to move beyond his fear of leaving a small area of the farm.
Life seems to have fallen into a painful, largely isolated, routine for them all. But Duncan is persuaded to try yet another experimental scheme to raise income for the farm by Larry, a lifelong drifter. He will move onto the farm – so they can raise a cannabis crop – and become a catalyst for change.
To deal with all that lightly and surely and not drive readers into a deep depression is an ambitious plan for a novelist. But Simpson largely achieves it. The story unrolls, dropping small detail after detail. Daily life [has all] the constraints of family, disability, acquired habits and perhaps inability to drag oneself out of increasingly negative thoughts. Autism is not the only constraining fact of life. But this novel questions falling into ruts, taking other people for granted and having no expectations that life can be better.
Having said that – as a cynic – one might say that the most unlikely part of the story is the (perhaps) “happy ending”. That might well annoy some who cope with the realities of a permanently disabled child. But the novel is a lesson in recognising the small, more satisfying parts of life and using them as a way forward through the harder parts. Lots for groups to discuss.
Truestory by Catherine Simpson
Sandstone Press pbk Sep 15 2015
OIR: Jade goes to Cheltenham – Jeanette Winterson