When a Part of You Goes Missing: Twin: A Memoir, by Allen Shawn

Like so many singletons, I've long wondered what it might mean to share the bonds of twinship. I've been equally fascinated by the workings of the autistic mind (especially since seeing last year's fantastic HBO first-person biopic, TEMPLE GRANDIN,about a woman who would be nine kinds of amazing, even if she hadn't found a way to articulate her perceptual differences to the rest of us.) Thanks to those two interests, I jumped to snag a review copy of Allen Shawn's new memoir, TWIN, which describes the impact in his life, growing up in the 1950's, of the removal of his eight-year-old autistic twin, Mary, from his family, where she would never again live.

Though in appearance heartbreakingly "normal," Mary always lagged behind her articulate (and musically gifted, as it turned out) brother. The children of a New Yorker editor and his equally high-strung wife, the siblings were quickly separated, and Allen soon learned to think of Mary less as a twin than as a very "different" (and frequently very difficult) sister. In accordance with the wisdom of the day, the Shawns were advised by doctors to focus on their two sons and the future of their marriage by sending Mary to a setting where she could be cared for by experts.

It had to have been a heartbreaking choice, as I'm sure it was for many other families given similar advice regarding their disabled children, and I can't imagine how terrifying and confusing it must have been for little Mary to be uprooted from the only home she'd ever known. For better or worse, however, the book's focus remains on Allen Shaw (after all, it is his memoir) and the lasting effects of an absence he was encouraged to suppress on his rocky adolescence.

Well written and chock full of interesting tidbits on twin development, autism, treatment of the disabled in the Fifties, and the Shawns' non-traditional family arrangement, TWIN: A MEMOIR makes for an absorbing read. As with his previous memoir, WISH I COULD BE THERE, in which composer, music professor, and skilled pianist Allen Shawn examined the origins of his often-crippling anxieties, the author proves himself adept at exploring the factors that have made him the man he is.

A great choice for book clubs or the curious reader, Allen Shawn's TWIN comes highly recommended.Check out this terrific New York Times interview with Shawn on the factors that convinced him to write the book.


Joni Rodgers said…
Thanks for this great review, Colleen. Going for the Kindle right now.

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