“The term ‘cognitive disorder’ implies there is something wrong with the way I think or they way I perceive reality. I perceive reality just find. Sometimes, I perceive more of reality than others.”
So says the main character in Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork. Marcelo hears music that no one else does. His father has never really believed in the music or Marcelo’s differences, and he challenges Marcelo to work in the mailroom of his law firm — the real world — for the summer. The challenge is more like a bribe. If Marcelo “succeeds” at the firm, he can return to his private school for his senior year. If he “fails”, he will attend his local public school. At the firm, Marcelo meets Jasmine, his beautiful and surprising coworker, and Wendell, the son of another partner in the firm. He learns about competition and jealousy, anger and desire. But it’s a picture he finds in a file — a picture of a girl with half a face — that truly connects him with the real world: its suffering, its injustice, and what he can do to fight.
That’s my amazon.com summary for all. Bear with me for a moment while I circuitously critique this novel.
Marcelo has Asperger’s Disorder. But, Stork has Marcelo throw the word around like a wet fish. Whereas in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, the concept of ASD is never mentioned and therefore never questioned, in The Real World the term randomly appears throughout. “Marcel has an autism-like condition that no doctor has been able to identify.” My issue with this ambivalence of sorts is that Stork’s use of the spectrum (as a whole) seems careless, haphazard, almost arbitrary, as though he doesn’t know enough about ASDs to have Marcelo truly embody any part or a whole of it.
Some may argue with me, citing that Marcelo does not NEED the diagnosis and that Stork does not NEED to formally write it. I agree. He doesn’t. Mark Haddon didn’t need to — so much so that he left it out entirely. I guess my “beef” is that in the midst of such an awkward handling of the subject, the reader is left with one solid — though wholly inadequate — word used over and over and over again used to characterize Marcel: retarded. Clearly, he is not. Clearly, Stork worked hard to show Marcel’s weaknesses with as clear a picture as his strengths. Clearly, Stork demonstrated how this repertoire surprised and confounded those who thought Marcel a “retard”.
But, it’s like that odd phenomenon I once learned. Don’t say what you are trying to NOT do first because it is all you will succeed at. “I’m not trying to be rude” — well, too bad, that’s the only way I can describe your behavior now. So, at the end of a book with a fairly cliched and optimistic plot, I am left with a highly bitter, hateful word that is too much like the real world for me.