Twin: A Memoir

Allen Shawn, Viking, $25.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-670-02237-3
In his previous book Wish I Could Be There, Shawn explored his agoraphobia and claustrophobia. Here, Shawn, whose father is the former New Yorker editor William Shawn and his brother the playwright/actor Wallace Shawn, focuses on his twin sister, Mary, who early on is diagnosed with both mental retardation and autism, and institutionalized by the time she is eight. Shawn knows he cannot really penetrate Mary's world, but writes movingly of the lifelong effects of Mary's absence from his. Mary's "sudden, virtually noiseless departure" results in a kind of "survivor guilt," so that "for [him], to grow up and flourish would mean leaving Mary irrevocably behind." He speculates that his father's inability to face the challenge of caring for her may have been a significant reason for his 37-year affair with colleague Lillian Ross. In addition to his reflections on his own emotional growth and creative evolution, Shawn steps out of the memoir genre to contribute a long informational chapter on how the thinking about autism has changed since it was first identified by Dr. Leo Kanner as a separate disorder from schizophrenia in the 1940s. Whether he's remembering Mary, the deaths of his parents, or his studies with Nadia Boulanger and other great musicians, Shawn writes poetically with honesty and empathy. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/08/2010
Release date: 12/01/2010
Genre: Nonfiction
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