I accepted The Shape of the Eye for review a few months back and shamefully am just now getting around to sharing my thoughts on it. I initially accepted it for review because I care about the value of human life in all forms and in all stages and I was curious to see what father George Estreich had to say about his daughter who was born with Down Syndrome.
The Shape of the Eye is a rambling book of thoughts in which Estreich shares how it felt to go through a normal pregnancy with his wife and to discover after the birth of the child – Laura – that she had a condition which would change the way they believed their family would look and operate for all time. He shares of the shock, the anxiety and, yes, the joy of having Laura. It is a thought provoking book in many ways as he addresses questions that many ask such as, “Why didn’t you test for defects while pregnant?” and “What is it like for Laura?” as she grows in a world where having Down Syndrome still makes people nervous to interact with or relate to. It is a challenging book to read as you experience through his words the raw emotions they have felt as well as the humor which they have relied on time and time again. Estreich writes:
“What can you expect from a child with Down syndrome?
We have two basic answers. Both take the form of a story, and both will be familiar to most. In the first kind of story, a child is born; her parents are given a shocking diagnosis; the child grows, faces difficulties – some medical – but eventually takes his or her place in the family, and in the community. In the second kind of story, the child’s arrival is a tragedy; the family is destroyed, siblings’ lives eclipsed or ruined. In some versions, the community is harmed as well.” (page 185)
Though not an easy book to read, necessarily, it does open the readers eyes to what challenges a person with Down syndrome might face and it explains just a little bit of how the public can change the way that they view such a person. Primarily, Estreich wishes we would view them as people first and I think that is a very reasonable request and a good one to make! A person with Down syndrome is still a person.
“I knew nothing of Down syndrome except that it was bad, and that it meant Laura was different from me. I no longer believe the first – Down syndrome is simply Laura’s way of being human. As for the second: Laura is different, but the differences are superficial. This may seem an odd assertion, since the extra chromosome pervades her, and its effects texture our days. And yet these alternate forms, eye and face and word, have come to contain and absorb what I know of love. Or love learned to alter itself, to accommodate the forms. She is no less my daughter, no less a person, for having an extra chromosome.” (page 263)
I cannot say that I was riveted to the developing story which is this book. However, I did appreciate the read of it. A bonus aspectfor me – that I did not realize when I started reading – was that the author and his family live in the same town I do! It’s a small town and I recognized it almost the moment he mentioned it! I’ve sat in the same bagel shop with my kids and I browse (and shop too, of course!) at the same used book store. I think it pretty awesome that it is likely that I’ll bump into their family someday. (I won’t hassle them. But I’ll smile!) That little fact made this a cool book for me to read.
Can I recommend this book? Most assuredly. Will it capture you as a reader? No guarantees. But I feel safe in guaranteeing that you’ll learn something about the way you view the world and that is not a bad thing. Not bad at all!
Many thanks to Penguin Books for sending a copy of this title my direction in exchange for my honest thoughts.
Carrie blogs about books and life over at Reading to Know.