Marcelo in the Real World
by Francisco X. Stork
“I deal with people like him a hundred times a day. They look at me and naturally assume I'm not as smart as they are. God help us. But think about it, it's a tremendous tactical advantage, not to mention personally liberating, to have others think I'm a dummy.”
Marcelo is somewhere on the autism spectrum, close to Aspergers, but his doctors have been unable to clearly diagnose him. His special interests are religion and his internal music which sings in the back of his mind and no one else can hear. He is looking forward to spending the summer caring for the ponies at Paterson, the school for developmentally challenged kids he has been attending his whole life. However, his father thinks that he needs time in "the real world" and tells him he has to take a summer job at his father's law firm. Confronted with the real world, Marcelo must squelch his natural interests (talking about religion makes people uncomfortable) and learn the complex rules of the office. He meets Jasmine, his boss, and Wendell, the privileged son of another lawyer, and they help him to see, for better or for worse, what the real world is like. One day, Marcelo sees the photograph of a girl whose face has been sliced in half by a faulty windshield, and he must wrestle with what the real world thinks is correct, and what his heart tells him to do.
Marcelo was a beautiful book! I loved his unique voice right from the start: his need for clarification, his precise imagery (the phone ring sounding like it was full of rage). It was so unfamiliar and yet familiar at the same time. I too have a need for schedules and routine, and sometimes feel overstimulated or unwilling to venture into unknown places.
I was expecting the journey of an autistic boy learning to relate socially to people. I did not expect the deep spiritual elements in this book. And I did not expect the journey of a person from weakness to strength. I didn't expect Marcelo to become a hero with more clarity and self-awareness than most people I know.
I was profoundly impacted by his relationship with Rabbi Herschel and the moments they wrestled with the will of God: the tree of good and evil, and the final scene when they discuss how to listen to what is right, the fact that the right thing might hurt people, but we must trust that God will use the hurt in a positive way. They both touched me deeply.
I was not expecting Wendell the predator. He was such a danger, lurking there in the back of every moment Marcelo’s father was such an intriguing and multidimensional character. I don't want to give too much away, but somewhere he takes a wrong turn and has a difficult time getting back on track. That story is not quite resolved to my satisfaction, but real life never is.
This book is an amazing peak into someone's head that on the street might appear very different to you, but Marcelo struggles with the same things everyone does. He just comes at it from a different perspective. I was sad that towards the end, he begins to loose some of his uniqueness in favor of fitting in, but he develops a gentleness and a strength and a clarity of purpose that I envy. This book is great for those who are searching, for those who do not always fit in, and for those who struggle with what is right and wrong.
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