Hervé is a self-aware man who excels at his job, but has a great deal of social anxiety and discomfort with societal norms. He has Asperger’s syndrome, which is an autism spectrum disorder. Two years ago, Hervé’s former boyfriend – a good man who struggled to make their relationship work – left him. Hervé was devastated and convinced he would never find someone again.
“My relationship with Pascal helped me understand one thing: I will spend my life alone. I’m not being dramatic; it’s just a simple observation. Even I can’t bear myself at times. If I can’t, who could?”
Hervé is used to insensitive and downright cruel comments from strangers and acquaintances alike. People think he is an oddity. Hervé even compares himself to an animal in a zoo being observed by the public on the other side of the glass. His disability is so ingrained he calls himself weird, slow, and stupid. “I want to be like the others,” he tells his doctor. Hervé finds rules reassuring because they tell him how to act without looking peculiar. At the same time, he’s frustrated that he can’t learn all the implicit rules that dictate appropriate behavior.
Hervé and Luc have a serendipitous first meeting. They are both given assignments by their respective psychologists: get out in public and dine in a restaurant alone. Luc, who has scars covering one side of his face, is confronted by hostility from patrons and restaurant personnel, and he is denied a table until Hervé offers up the other seat at his own table. And so their relationship begins.
Hervé likes Luc’s scars and finds the chaotic patterns soothing. Luc seems to find Hervé’s idiosyncrasies amusing and his candidness refreshing. He laughs kindly at the strange or inappropriate things Hervé does, rather than making the disparaging remarks to which Hervé is accustomed. Luc takes his time getting to know Hervé and sees that he’s more than his blunders. Likewise, Hervé is the first person who hasn’t looked at Luc with pity or disgust. He sees the man beneath the scars.
They eventually become at ease with each other, but not all is peachy. Hervé is inundated with self-doubt and feels hopeless and angry at himself because of his frequent ineptitude when with Luc. He’s afraid to move forward with the relationship because he fears a severe faux pas will result in him losing Luc. But as they become a dating couple, they facilitate a healing in each other and instill greater self-acceptance and confidence.
Love on the Spectrum is a lovely, poignant story about two men finding each other in the most unlikely manner, falling in love, and sharing their imperfect lives together. As the parent of an adult son on the autism spectrum, I was compelled to read this story. Would I like it from a general reading standpoint? Would I like it from the perspective of someone intimately familiar with autism? Would it be an accurate portrayal? And how would it affect my enjoyment of the book if it wasn’t?
Well, author Alec Nortan nailed it. Nortan’s Hervé epitomizes life as a person with autism. He didn’t paint his hero with too broad a stroke and didn’t slip into caricature, which could easily have happened. The book felt so authentic, I stopped to check if it was indeed a work of fiction and not autobiographical. In fact, the author’s bio after the conclusion reveals that he has Asperger’s, so clearly his personal experience informs his writing. Hervé’s obsessions, difficulty making eye contact, and inability to understand sarcasm or interpret body language and non-verbal cues are all on point. It’s Nortan’s depiction of the sensory hypersensitivity – bright lights, loud sounds, strong smells, touch, and crowds – and the resulting meltdowns that really struck me as genuine. These are everyday situations for many of the approximately five million people with autism in the United States. Nortan did these individuals a great service by providing a glimpse into one person’s experience, and while it doesn’t represent everyone, it is a compassionate story that should raise awareness.
Random chapters interspersed throughout the book provide snapshots into Hervé’s earlier life. They show how others perceived his odd behavior and give useful insight into what shaped the man we see today. The addition of Luc’s POV would’ve added another dimension, but this book is mainly about Hervé, so adding Luc’s POV would have shifted the focus and diluted Hervé’s perspective. This is a comfortable read with an enjoyable storyline, minimal grammatical errors, and no loose ends. One thing I would welcome is another 100 pages to the book. I feel I missed too much in the jump between the second to last and the last chapters. Although the book certainly works at its current length, I would love getting to know Hervé and Luc even more.
There is no intimacy or passion in the book. Nothing happens beyond a kiss. The lack of heat is fitting to the tone of the book, though. It feels as though intimacy between Hervé and Luc should remain private, in keeping with their personalities. Although at times I love dirty, steamy, sexy books, it would’ve felt disrespectful to these characters, thus I’m glad Nortan didn’t go in that direction.
So the answers to my original questions: yes, I greatly enjoyed Love on the Spectrum, both as a general reader and as someone knowledgeable about Asperger’s. This is not a book about a man whose autism is ancillary to the plot. This is first and foremost about autism and a man’s quest to live among society in an acceptable and comfortable manner with a life partner, and it certainly achieves that goal. I encourage you to give this book a try for both its interesting subject matter and the relationship between two struggling individuals.
“Who could have imagined the best cure for the disability of one would be the disability of the other? But not really. They are not disabilities. There are parts of us, elements that make us who we really are. We may hide our true selves from strangers, but knowing there is someone who excepts us unconditionally is the most wonderful gift possible. It’s what makes us feel human. I return his kiss, and take his hands in mine. Now I’m sure of it: I won’t grow old alone.”