"Daniel Isn't Talking"
“You’re not strange, Melanie. You’re an autism mum. I see them all the time. And I see how no amount of pain in the experience of caring for your son will put to death the fire of love you have for him.”
(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky MAY 1, 2006)
Melanie Marsh is a transplanted American living in London with her British husband, Stephen, and their children, four-year-old Emily and three-year-old Daniel. While Emily is delightfully precocious, creative, and gregarious, Daniel often shrieks at the top of his lungs, cannot speak intelligibly, and sleeps fitfully, leaving his mother a nervous wreck. A simple shopping trip is a Herculean endeavor with Daniel in tow. Stephen thinks that Melanie is overprotective and a bit unstable, but she is adamant in her belief that her son’s bizarre behavior points to a serious underlying problem.
When Daniel is finally diagnosed with autism, Melanie is devastated, especially since he seemed fine at birth. She says to herself, “You might think that a baby with autism gives you some warning so you won’t love him quite as much as you do your normal child.” However, there is no warning. “The change is gradual; the symptoms devious in the way they come and go.” Stephen wants to place Daniel in a residential school with other special children, but Melanie insists that he is better off at home. Stephen’s and Melanie’s already shaky marriage begins to disintegrate as they grow ever more distant from and angry at one another.
Daniel Isn’t Talking is a poignant and affecting novel about a mother’s agony when she realizes that her child will never be like other children. Leimbach effectively depicts the day-to-day struggle involved in dressing, feeding, and caring for a little boy who cannot communicate his wants and needs. The reader feels Melanie’s intense frustration as she impoverishes herself visiting one specialist after another, hoping for a miracle cure that does not exist.
Marti Leimbach is an intelligent and compassionate writer with a keen ear for dialogue and a gift for creating quirky, unpredictable, and compelling characters. She wisely does not make her heroine a saint; Melanie is an intense and sometimes irrational woman who comes on a bit too strong. Although Melanie’s husband seems insensitive and cold, he is not completely one-dimensional. Stephen loves his family, but he cannot stand living with a wife who is obsessed with her children 24/7.
My one quibble is with the character of Andy O’Connor, a charismatic and altruistic Irishman whose expertise in working with autistic children gives Melanie hope that her son will learn to speak. Andy is a bit too good to be true, and his romantic interest in Melanie injects a soap opera element into the book that is a bit jarring. Still, Daniel Isn’t Talking is worth reading for its vivid and engrossing portrait of how a fiercely devoted mother copes with a seemingly insurmountable challenge.
- Amazon readers rating: from 50 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Daniel Isn't Talking at Random House
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Dying Young (1990)
- Sun Dial Street (1992)
- Love and Houses (1997)
- Falling Backwards (2002)
- Daniel Isn't Talking (April 2006)
Movies from books:
- Dying Young (1991)
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- Official website for Marti Leimbach
- HarperCollins interview with Marti Leimbach
- Marti Leimbach essay in Autism Speaks
- BookPage review of Love and Houses
- Reader's Guide for Daniel Isn't Talking
- The New York Times review of Daniel Isn't Talking
- National Autistic Society review of Daniel Isn't Talking
- BookPage review of Daniel Isn't Talking
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About the Author:
Marti Leimbach was born in Washington, D.C. and is the author of several novels. She teaches at Oxford University’s Creative Writing Program.
She currently lives outside London, England, with her husband and two children, one of whom is autistic.