The narrator of this long, lyrical musing is a psychiatrist who works with autistic children. Though much of the narrative is a reflection on her mid-life relationship with a journalist lover who risks death to report on places in political turmoil, her observations about her patients provide a recurrent motif and reference point.

Several long passages detail the fascination and frustration involved in working with her young patients, what she has learned from them about limits, patience, and the semiotics of autism. She also reflects on how that learning has allowed her to understand "normal" people differently. One of the subtle but strong themes of the story is the question of what "normal" means.

A secondary focus is her close attachment to her two grown sons. This is developed through memories of particular scenes of their childhood that she identifies as bonding moments. Another focus is her relationship with her mother, now dwindling into mental incompetence and squalor in her old age. Thinking about these relationships, with lover, sons, mother and patients, is a way of taking stock of how the strands of her life have brought her to a place of qualified peace in mid-life.


Mostly interior monologue, the story moves slowly, but compellingly over the landscape of memory. Its strongest feature is the sensitivity to nuance and telling detail in the narrator's observations about each of the significant people in her life. Finally a portrait of the narrator, we arrive at knowing her through the oblique self-characterization involved in her musings on others.

The passages about her autistic patients are among the most haunting in the story, and give us the fullest sense of what her work has taught her about compassion and about what is penetrable and treatable and what must remain mysterious in this illness. She is a flawed woman; her insecurities, impatiences, and misjudgments are recounted in an unapologetic way that gives the story an air of detached rumination on life rather than confession.

Primary Source

The Rest of Life



Place Published

New York



Page Count