Short People Got No Reason

Andrew Solomon's Far From The Tree is a project.  It is work.  It's a hefty book in hardcover, and it demands and deserves acuity from its readers.  Mostly, that work feels rewarding, but it also feels like work.  Many episodes with that book ended with clapping its cover down, sighing like a hard day had ended, swearing at its relentless punches at one's facility for empathy.

The introduction sets out a thesis on parents dealing with children they might not expect -- children with disabilities, gifts, mental illnesses.  Solomon grants these children "horizontal identities," whereby they fit or identify more with others (even strangers) than the families, ancestry, social groups in which they have "vertical" identity.  This carries into early chapters on the politics of deafness and dwarfism, areas that split over adherence to or an identity apart from the mainstream.  Through surgery or DNA testing, modern medicine can "correct" or even (through eugenics) eliminate such populations, and Solomon argues with a great charity of humanity about why this is a dangerous and threatening idea.

Middle chapters break away somewhat to deal with families with greater issues, and the family stories in these chapters seem to get increasingly bleak to the point where one has to take regular breaks to hug one's own children, thankful that as tenuous or difficult as they can sometimes be, they are still a far lighter burden than some parents face.  I found myself looking forward to the incongruous chapter on musical prodigies, figuring it would be a break from all the dire and the sad, but even there one finds tragic stories and broken lives.

It's also about that point in the book where attention turns from genetic conditions discovered at birth or early on to illnesses and behaviors that first manifest in later childhood or adolescence, which brings in a whole 'nother level of fraught anxieties.

What's important about Far From The Tree, despite or because of the work it demands, is how it reframes thinking about the types of children Solomon discusses and the need for parents, medical and mental health practitioners (and particularly ob/gyn and pediatric doctors), and all of the kinds of people who have operating hearts to deal more deeply with these children as persons, as beings with lives worth our time and our critical faculties and our work.