Marti Leimbach
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Daniel Isn't Talking
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Daniel Isn't Talking

“I adored Daniel isn't Talking. I was riveted, engrossed -- all those wonderful things one hopes for when opening a book…very real and gripping.”
Anita Shreve

" Powerful, moving and also surprisingly funny. A love story in every sense."
Deborah Moggach, author of Tulip Fever

Daniel Isn’t Talking is a novel about a woman who discovers her young son is autistic. I wrote it five years after my own son was diagnosed with autism, so it is also a very personal story, mixing my real life with an invented fictional narrative. When I read it I see myself so clearly in it – not me exactly, no, but a stylized account of myself – that I can sometimes barely bring myself to look.

Let me state at the outset the very obvious: I would much rather have written a different book, or no book at all, than to have gone through the experiences that enabled me to write Daniel Isn’t Talking.

About my son I can tell you I was certain there was something wrong with him for some time before the actual diagnosis. I used to ask the doctors about these obscure symptoms. Why does he walk on his toes, I’d ask. Why does he grind his teeth like that? Why doesn’t he sleep at night? Or eat for that matter? I mean, surely he should eat? And why doesn’t he talk?

And then one day the answer came and I wished I’d never asked the questions. Because he is autistic, I was told.

Autism in a child does not affect only that child. It affects a whole family. Suddenly, everything in my life was different. My normally wonderful husband became remote, unhelpful. The only way I could be sure he took in what I had to say was if I text him on his mobile (he got better, by the way). For a time, his relatives went around saying things like, “Well, we have no history of autism in our family.” My own relatives -- who are not warm and fuzzy people let me tell you -- weren’t much help either. My sister would say things like, “Wow, that sucks that he’s autistic. So I guess you’re going to have to do something with him.”

Do something with him? I hate to think what she had in mind.

But, yes, I had to do something. And just like the character, Melanie, in Daniel Isn’t Talking I found myself scrambling to figure out what.

But of course, the novel is not a memoir, and what Melanie does in the novel ends up being far more entertaining than anything in my actual life. The great thing about fiction is that you can take subject matter as difficult as that in Daniel Isn’t Talking and fill it with humour, with surprises, with events that escort the reader gently through the minefield, which has become these characters’ lives.

I positively loved writing this novel and I feel a particular affinity for it. I admire the main character, Melanie. She was so much braver than I was at the time of my son’s diagnosis. I fell in love with the therapist who shows her how to teach her son and I was glad that I could write it so that she fell in love with him, too. And of course the Daniel in the novel is so much like my own son, Nicholas, and brought back memories of the day Nicky finally said his first word – at the age of 3 and 2 months – and how hard he fought to learn the simple things that other children take for granted.

Whenever I talk about this novel, I find people leaning toward me. My nephew is autistic, my son, my grandchild, my brother… It seems there are more and more of us whose lives have been changed by autism or another developmental disability. Perhaps it is not so surprising, therefore, that a book like this has emerged from the ashes of my life; the story is all around us.

 

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Daniel Isn’t Talking
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Daniel Isn't Talking - US edition
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