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Book Bag


By John Elder Robison

Crown Publishing


John E. Robison, an Amherst writer who has penned two previous books about his struggles to come to terms with Asperger’s syndrome, has a new one that looks at the role Asperger’s played in his relationship with his talented but out-of-the-mainstream son, Jack.

In his new memoir, Robison revisits a story that got a lot of attention in the local media about five years ago, when Jack, then a student at South Hadley High school, was arrested and charged with having dangerous chemicals in his home and setting off explosions outside — charges on which he was later acquitted on all counts.

Jack, who Robison refers to as Cubby, was never an easy kid, Robison writes, and he himself, not yet at the point where he realized he had Asperger’s, didn’t know quite how to approach fatherhood. He improvised, reading him stock prices from The Wall Street Journal at bedtime, thinking the tedium would put the boy to sleep. But he also shared some unusual adventures with his son: By the time Cubby was 10, he’d steered a Coast Guard cutter and a freight locomotive, and run an antique Rolls Royce into a fence.

Later, Cubby developed an intense interest in fireworks and became a brilliant chemist, even as school officials called him dumb and stubborn — the same labels, Robison writes, that had been applied to him when he was younger. Then he and his son had to contend with the charges that landed Cubby in Hampshire Superior Court, a case Robison says was never warranted.

“All this had happened because ... [he’d] gotten interested in the physics and chemistry of explosives at a time when most kids are still learning multiplication and division,” Robison writes. “To me, he was just a smart kid with a love of science ... but because of Asperger’s, he’s often oblivious to what’s going on around him.”

Robison, who has become a busy public speaker about Asperger’s, relates that Cubby has joined him on some occasions and has spoken on his own about the subject. His son was also featured in a front-page story in The New York Times on Asperger’s in late 2011. “I can’t believe how far he’s come,” he writes.

Robison will read from his new book on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley. The event requires purchase of the book or a $5 ticket.


By Robert Abel

The University of Georgia Press

In this collection of short stories, originally published in 1991 and now reissued in paperback by the University of Georgia Press, North Hadley writer Robert Abel explores the lives of men and women who are on the edge of disaster, facing crises that force them to rely on their wits or the help of a friend. By turns funny, cynical and serious, the stories explore widely varied settings and are told with a true raconteur’s skill.

In “Appetizer,” a solitary salmon fisherman on a remote Alaskan stream is joined by a surprise companion: an enormous bear that “fixes me with this half-amused, half-curious look that says: You are meat.” The narrator is forced literally to fish for his life, flinging salmon to the hungry bear to stave off becoming dinner himself; then he must reckon with an even larger bear that lumbers out of the woods. How he makes his escape makes for a laugh-out-loud conclusion to the droll tale.

“Commander of the Buffaloes” examines the tensions inherent in a sleepy Southern town when a black Army unit is transferred there during the early days of World War II. The unit’s white commander, struggling with a drinking problem and a stalled career, does little to help his men deal with the redneck sheriff and townspeople who don’t want black soldiers in their midst, leaving the men to take matters into their own hands.

And in “Lawless in New York,” a party of Midwest academics, in the Big Apple for a conference, let too much drink go to their heads, exposing faultlines in their personal relationships as they carouse in an “elegant bar where Susan Sontag and Norman Mailer had no doubt insulted each other ... Maybe Hemingway had slugged somebody here, and Dorothy Parker, of course, had left some poor fool’s ego in bloody ribbons.”

“Ghost Traps,” which won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction when it was first released, is the work of a writer whom Publisher’s Weekly calls “tremendously skilled ... and a first-rate storyteller in the timeless tradition of John Hersey.”

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