Look Me in the Eye review
“As sweet and funny and sad and true and heartfelt a memoir as one could find.”
—from the foreword by Augusten Burroughs
Ever since he was young, John Robison longed to connect with other people, but by the time he was a teenager, his odd habits—an inclination to blurt out non sequiturs, avoid eye contact, dismantle radios, and dig five-foot holes (and stick his younger brother, Augusten Burroughs, in them)—had earned him the label “social deviant.” It was not until he was forty that he was diagnosed with a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome. That understanding transformed the way he saw himself—and the world. A born storyteller, Robison has written a moving, darkly funny memoir about a life that has taken him from developing exploding guitars for KISS to building a family of his own. It’s a strange, sly, indelible account—sometimes alien yet always deeply human.
Review and Grade: A-
This book provides incredible insight into people with Asperger’s syndrome and autism spectrum disorders. Robison’s story reflects the incredible evolution of society’s understanding and ability to accept psychological disorders, particularly psychological disorders that are not visibly noticeable. However, an important point Robison makes is that people often became offended or impatient with him for behaviors that are perfectly rational in his mind, as a result of his Asperger’s. We may be learning a lot more about the mind, but there are still strong preconceptions about the right way to behave.
I was moved by the impact that “knowing” had on Robison’s later life. I loved that his voice was so “Aspergian” and yet he clearly made extra effort to incorporate emotions associated with experiences for the reader’s benefit and understanding. I have a cousin with Asperger’s syndrome and after reading this book, I find it so much easier to communicate with him. I saw my cousin at Thanksgiving, less then a week after finishing Look Me in the Eye and the difference is undeniable. There is serious power in knowing.
My favorite passage is when Robison is describing his need to assign his own names to people. He just explained that his brother outgrew the names Robison has always assigned him (“Snort” and “Varmint”), which caused a dilemma for Robison.
“In the absence of a workable name, I just refer to him as ‘my brother’ without actually using a name.
To his partner, Dennis, I say, ‘Where’s my brother?’
To my son, I say, ‘Where’s your uncle?’
To my brother, I say, ‘Hey!’” (p. 243)
More than anything, this is an incredible memoir. Beyond the fact that most people with autism spectrum disorders struggle to communicate, let alone write a book, Robison’s memoir stands alone as a great read. He has led an incredible life, both because of and in spite of his disorder and seeing him juxtaposed with his younger brother is incredibly interesting.
The biggest lessons coming out of this book, at least in my mind, are that anyone can literally do anything and that success is in the eye of the beholder.
Anyone who likes memoirs, likes Augusten Burroughs, or knows someone with an autism spectrum disorder must read this book.