By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton
One of the fringe benefits of watching the PBS series “Great American Reads” is learning about a book that you just must read. I had never heard of Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” Christopher John Francis Boone is an autistic youth attending a school for special needs in Swindon, England. While Christopher has many of the social behaviors typical of autism, he is gifted in math and science. He works quadratic equations in his head and maps his time and life there, too. He’s scheduled to test for A-level advanced maths this year and expects to get an A. The unexpected is the enemy: new places, people, experiences.
Christopher often goes out in the nighttime. There are few if any people out then, and he considers the nighttime sky a friend. He stops in a neighbor’s yard to visit Wellington, the neighbor’s large poodle. Talk about unexpected: The poodle has been stabbed to death with a garden fork. A series of unfortunate events lands Christopher in jail. After his father bails him out, he decides to solve the mystery of who killed Wellington. His father tells him to stay out of other people’s business. “Other people’s business” is a concept that is too broad for Christopher.
It should be noted that Christopher is very widely read, and there are literary references throughout the story. His ideas about investigations are based on his reading of Sherlock Holmes. “The Curious Incident” also features many examples of his mathematical thinking. You don’t have to understand them; I didn’t.
It turns out that a the “curious incident” is not even the biggest mystery in the story. For instance, Christopher’s father has told him that his mother is dead. Yet much of the book is about Christopher’s traumatic trip to London to live with his mother. Traveling is full of the “unexpected” for an autistic person. It should be noted that there are several types of autism.
Teachers and police officers especially will want to read “The Curious Incident” if they haven’t already. More and more these professionals deal with those who have various mental health issues. They will benefit from the book’s insight. And the story is interesting, too.