Warning: Andrew Solomon’s new book, about the parents of children with serious medical problems, would make the world’s worst baby shower gift. From dwarfism and Down syndrome to schizophrenia and autism, Solomon delivers a compendium of news you don’t want to expect when you’re expecting. Although some of the conditions startle, the book is no lurid freak show. On the contrary, Solomon forcefully showcases parents who not only aren’t horrified by the differences they encounter in their offspring, but who rise to the occasion by embracing them. In so doing, they reveal a “shimmering humanity” that speaks to our noblest impulses to nurture.
“Far From the Tree” is massively ambitious and, also, just simply massive. It’s exhaustive and occasionally exhausting, but more often inspirational about the “infinitely deep” and mysterious love of parents for their children. Motivated in part by his difficult experience negotiating his homosexuality, Solomon, the author of the National Book Award-winning book on depression “The Noonday Demon,” spent a decade interviewing more than 300 families, compiling 40,000 pages of transcripts about 10 widely varied conditions. “It would have been easier to write a book about five conditions,” he acknowledges in his introduction. “I wanted, however, to explore the spectrum of difference.” So he visited juvenile criminals in Minneapolis and a congenitally deaf village in Bali. He interviewed victims of horrific incest and family abuse. He spent time with women who bore children conceived in rape and even with child prodigies — whose gifts, paradoxically, force them to face issues similar to those of children with severe disabilities.