Mozart And the Whale: An Asperger's Love Story
Asperger's syndrome is one of the many branches on the gnarled and
crooked tree called autism. People with AS tend to be highly
intelligent or creative or both, but socially inept to an extreme
(and, as this book shows, sometimes hilarious) degree. Some of
them, like Jerry Newport, are savants who have the ability to
calculate numbers and dates. Some, like Jerry's wife Mary, have
prodigious artistic talents.
Jerry met Mary at a party for adults with AS organized by Jerry's
Los Angeles-based group, AGUA (Adults Gathering, United and
Autistic). He had attempted to fashion a whale costume expressing
his adoration of Free Willy, and she arrived in the guise of
Nannerl Mozart, the brilliant musician whose life was overshadowed
by her famous brother. It wasn't exactly love at first sight, but
when the two realized they both kept pet cockatiels it was sealed.
A scant 20 weeks later they were married, both of them experiencing
an exciting sense of being fully understood and intimately
acceptable that had eluded them previously.
The book is written in tandem --- first Jerry speaks, then Mary, in
episodes. It can become a little confusing even for the avid
reader, because of its many time jumps and some repetitions. But if
you were fascinated by the movie Rainman (as Jerry was, finding in
it his first real affirmation), then you will want to take in the
whole saga of Mary and Jerry.
Both had miserable childhoods filled with basic misunderstandings
about how the world works and major rejections by family and peers.
Of the two, Mary had "lived" most. Shunted away by her parents to a
strict religious cult in mid-adolescence, she had two children and
many lovers, lived in caves and deserts and the streets of San
Francisco. Her only successful employment was as a piano tuner. A
tall attractive woman with outbursts of extroversion, she admits
that having AS isn't as difficult for a woman (it's also much
rarer) because snagging ordinary men isn't the same problem for
autistic women as getting normal women is for autistic men.
In college, Jerry once overheard his frat brothers talking about
his remarkably high incidence of first dates. He usually could
charm a woman sufficient to go out for coffee but soon found her
interest waning, after which he might call her numerous times
without success. He had no idea what ordinary people talk about,
and little empathy for the feelings of others. He once had sex with
a young woman and, immediately after the act, sincerely grilled her
for ways to land a date with another girl he'd been trying to
Despite his education, Jerry wound up driving a cab and living in
desperate loneliness. Starting AGUA was a step out of the pit.
Finding Mary was a relief and a learning experience.
In marriage much of the anger that the two had left unexplored came
out --- at each other. Jerry had no problems expressing it, which
caused his wife to fall into deeper and more crushing depressions.
Having a "60 Minutes" show focus on their unusual relationship only
added salt to the wounds. How they conquered their demons and
learned to live with AS and each other is an adventure worth
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on January 7, 2011