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Strange Ways, Here We Come

Autism comes from the Greek autos for self; Leo Kanner, who coined the term, described the condition as one of extreme self-absorption. So, too, social alienation, as Nalda Said, the debut novel by Looper mastermind and ex-Belle & Sebastian bassist Stuart David, makes clear. David's spoken/sung contributions to B&S were vapor trails of whispery withdrawal; the more gregarious Looper layered on beats and samples, but still in the service of coy melancholia. Nalda Said has the trappings of your average Belle-bottomed yarn—a pensive lad with a go-nowhere job and a catalog of regret (The Loneliness of the Hospital Gardener?). But there's no salve of transporting beauty, nothing to fetishize. The narrator is recessive to the point of debilitation, too diffident and paranoid to even give his name. Pace Morrissey, not only can shyness stop you from doing all the things in life you'd like to, it is often not very nice at all.

I can't do chatting: Curious author Mark Haddon.
photo: Diane Collins
I can't do chatting: Curious author Mark Haddon.

Details

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
By Mark Haddon
Doubleday, 224 pp., $22.95
Buy this book

Nalda Said
By Stuart David
Turtle Point, 152 pp., $14.95
Buy this book

Nalda Said is, at heart, a cautionary tale about the terrifying malleability of a young intellect. The protagonist, who shares autistic Christopher's implacable literal-mindedness but not his logical prowess, was told by his aunt Nalda that he has a diamond in his stomach, deposited there by his jewel-thief dad. He takes this floridly metaphorical self-esteem chestnut (there's something special inside) at face value and carries it into adulthood—analgesic security blanket turned toxic faith. Commonsensical readers might wonder how the gem will make itself known upon arrival, and the author responds with a peek into his protagonist's loo, where the commode is accessorized with can, fork, and magnifying glass. It's a surprisingly angry and indelicate joke, hinting at the disgust that lies just beneath the mopey exterior. There's nothing romantic, David seems to be saying, about the solipsistic existence of a shy boy, caught up in his own shit.

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