Triviana

Just the facts, ma'am:
This is a good book. Read it.

''600 Hours of Edward''
By Craig Lancaster
(Riverbend Publishing, 278 pages, $14 paperback)
Buy at Amazon

Reviewed by John Orr
December 2009

A few years ago I worked at the San Jose Mercury News, where I was casually acquainted with a guy named Craig Lancaster.

He was an editor in the sports department, I worked in features, so we didn't know each other very well, but I did watch him win a Peeps-eating contest once. That was disgusting.

600 HoursBut, that's the kind of thing people in sports departments do at newspapers, which is probably one of the reasons the Merc put those people off in their own room, far away from other human beings.

Lancaster is one of more than 200 people on my Facebook friends list who used to work at the Mercury News. I'd seen him post some information about having written and published a novel, so I sent him a Facebook note and asked him to have his publisher send me a copy for review.

The nice thing about reviewing books is that if I don't like the book, I usually don't have to write about it. If I don't like it, I just toss it aside. Same is true here. I don't have to review this book.

But, I like the book, which is called "600 Hours of Edward," and want to tub-thump for it a bit. It was published by Riverbend Publishing ("Bringing you the best of Montana and the West"), which is a small company, which means the book may not be stacked on a table with the best-sellers at Borders and the like. It is available on Amazon.com.

It is the story of Edward Stanton, a man nearing middle age who is afflicted by Asperger's Syndrome, a "high-functioning" form of autism. Edward, who narrates, has a pretty comfortable life, thanks to a wealthy father, but a lonely one. Edward doesn't always do well with other people, and plans his life around avoiding others as much as he can.

He lives alone in a small house in Billings, Montana (where, in fact, Lancaster now works at the Billings Gazette). Edward's father bought him the house because, as Edward says, "I had 'become a distraction whose presence was proving divisive in the family home.'"

Edward's father, a powerful local politican, speaks to Edward through letters from a lawyer too much of the time. Edward sees his father and mother once a month for awkward dinners at their huge home on the mountain.

Edward watches episodes of the old TV show "Dragnet" every night at 10 p.m., because like Sgt. Friday, he prefers facts. He keeps track of what time he wakes up every day, and reports it to us in this book. He glances at weather forecasts in the Gazette, but doesn't trust them. He prefers facts, so looks more carefully at the recorded temperature data for the previous day.

He shops where he can use a scanner so he doesn't have to deal with a grocery checker.

Into his well-controlled life come a young boy and the boy's mother, who move into a house across the street. She has moved away from an abusive boyfriend.

Young boys are not to be denied, and the kid becomes Edward's friend. Edward helps out when the abusive boyfriend shows up. There is a scene at a hospital. Trouble ensues. A lot of trouble, and threats from Edward's father and Edward's father's lawyer.

All that leads to some major choices for Edward. It leads to changing his life.

I liked this book very much because Lancaster gives Edward a very good voice, writes well about Asperger's Syndrome, and builds a nice sense of place, which is one of my favorite parts of reading a novel. I want to go to a place when I pick up a novel.

And Lancaster takes us skillfully and sensitively through the rough ride that leads to Edward being forced to take more control of his own existence, and venture more from his cocoon and into the crazy place that is normal life.

It's a good book. I urge you to find a copy and read it.


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