A Wild Ride Up the Cupboards, by Ann Bauer
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads doesn't allow half stars, but I can do whatever I want on my blog, right? I love the title of Bauer's debut novel. It is a term used to describe the protagonist's uncle and the way his older brother would play with him until he died suddenly of scarlet fever.
At the center of this book is Edward, a boy who begins to withdraw at age four. His mom, Rachel, and dad, Jack, try to figure out what is happening to him...it seems like autism, but it isn't...and they resort to extreme lengths to try to help him.
Rachel also discovers that her uncle, Mickey, who died before she was born, had similarities to young Edward. Bauer alternates her chapters between Rachel's story and that of Mickey, whose life changed dramatically when his beloved older brother died.
Many readers have found it jarring to go back and forth between perspectives, and often I dislike that as well...but I didn't have a problem with it in this book. In fact, I liked the parts about Mickey.
My qualms about the book were that I found it difficult to relate to the parents and their choices...I found their anguish about their son's situation to be touching and tragic, but at the same time I felt that Bauer skimped on describing what drew them together and what they were like as human beings. This story is apparently based on Bauer's own life (one of her sons went through a similar type of withdrawal, and she too was scammed by the Israeli mafia!), and she writes of great fondness for the character Jack. However, I've never known anyone like Jack and I found it hard to understand how someone could be in love with such a person.
The end felt vaguely unsatisfying. Whatever became of Edward (and Bauer's own son)? Did they ever discover what was wrong with him? Did Rachel even care about her marriage? (For even though Bauer says Jack was her favorite character, I didn't sense that with Rachel.)
Bauer effectively describes the anxiety and feelings of loss for a parent who has a child with special needs. I could relate when Rachel became angry and envious at the easy success of "normal" children, or when her best friend's cat dies and the friend compares that to the loss of a child. This novel contained many moments of poignancy and effectiveness. I wish I had felt more fondness for the characters.