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Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger’s (2009)
by Tim Page
Doubleday
208 pages

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This book should be called Tim Page’s Pretty Great Life.

There’s an assumption with memoirs or biographies, especially ones that refer to a difficult condition in the subtitle, that there will be a significant dosage of mess-ups, misery and misfortune. It was therefore in an odd way depressing to finish reading this autobiography and realize that the author has been quite fortunate, and carved out a decent life for himself.

Page was passionate about classical and opera music at an early age.

Page grew up in a family which was supportive financially, emotionally, and socially.  He was immersed in excellent music, literature, and other rich cultural products at an early age, and was already successful enough as a child to be covered by Time magazine (though he ended up being edited out of the published feature).  As a young man he encountered mentors that aided in his development, and he quickly found a niche in which he could make a living (and eventually earn a Pulitzer prize for his writing on classical music).  Not only has not everyone been so fortunate, but I think it can be easily said that Page’s life has been made much easier by privileges not extended to the majority of humanity.

Of course there are some darker moments here too.  Use and abuse of drugs in his teen years. Appearing to be a genius to most people, yet being so disinterested in High School that he flunked many courses and eventually dropped out. A passenger in the crash of an overloaded pickup truck of teenagers on a weekend binge that resulted in several deaths. And the endless social awkwardness and difficulty in connecting with other people that comes as a part of Asperger’s syndrome, which he was diagnosed with in his forties.

If the above sounds like a slam, this is actually one of the best books that I’ve read in quite a while, and I have a hard time imagining that there will be many other books published that can compete with this one in evoking the essential spirit of growing up in the second half of the twentieth century.  Though I’m much younger than the author, I think he captured something essential about trying to survive and find yourself in a world both so permissive and so difficult and hostile.  I like how he appreciated both classical and rock music in a similar way, on its own merits.

Some people might protest that there’s not enough personal material here, such as information on interactions with his siblings, or the women in his life, or his children, but somehow I don’t think that being exhaustive is a necessary element for an autobiography.  Bob Dylan’s autobiography similarly left unmentioned much of his personal life, but sometimes those things just aren’t what the author wants to talk about. This book doesn’t scale incredible artistic highs, or take a steely look at things from every angle, but if you take it for what it is–in the same way it’s best to take people–it’s a great and inspiring read.

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The Prisoner: Shattered Visage (1990)
written by Dean Motter and Mark Askwith, illustrated by Dean Motter
DC Comics
208 pages

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After watching the dire AMC-TV remake (or re-imagining, or brutalizing, or whatever) of the classic late-60s British television series The Prisoner, I learned about this comic, which was originally published in four volumes, and picks up the story of the original series twenty years later.  The two Canadian writers apparently had the input and approval of creator and lead actor Patrick McGoohan, though I’m not sure if their contribution is considered canon.

Number Six, twenty years later

The story is mostly involved with the lives of various contemporary spies and intelligence workers in London, England, and only about a third of it takes place in The Village, now abandoned and almost devoid of inhabitants.  This becomes one of the weaknesses of the story, as the scenes in the everyday world are quite mundane and differ little from a thousand other mediocre spy stories.  The hero of the original series, Number Six, does make an appearance, as does one of his Number Two antagonists, but the main characters are younger agents newly created by the authors.

The ultimate meaning of the original series, regarded by many critics as one of the high points of artistic achievement in television, is hotly debated.  The audience appeal of the episodes ranged from the fairly standard cat-and-mouse game of a secret agent trying to outwit his antagonist, to the final episode that took a severe turn into surrealism, breaking down the narrative structure of the series, and an ending that was somehow both heavy-handed and impenetrably ambiguous all at once.  But, for me, the overarching theme of the work was the struggle of the individual against totalitarian structures, and the maintenence of internal integrity in the face of whatever one may be subjected to. Man against mass society.

Simpsons episode The Computer Wore Menace Shoes, in which we learn Number Six was made to disappear after inventing the bottomless peanut bag.

Unfortunately, none of this is really brought up in this comic book, which deals with more mundane events and concerns, as well as providing an ending that seems rushed. The strongest connection to the spirit of the series is the quoting of some of the phrases that were used in The Village, but it never feels like the authors have a full grasp of the material.  As for the artwork, it’s decent, though sometimes a bit too dark and murky.

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