Strange Beauty (Parallax Press, 2017) is a memoir. I started writing it shortly after my son Felix, then ten years old, moved to a residential school. Our house, in spite of the best efforts of my young daughters, felt dismally quiet and dull. I wanted to write a portrait that would recreate Felix’s energy and show off his depths. With the exception of Benjy in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and, more recently, Termite in Jayne Anne Phillips’s novel Lark & Termite, I had not come across any characters in American literature who reminded me of my son. Even in disability literature, his type of person barely seemed to exist. I believe this has to do with a tendency, particularly strong in my own beloved city of New York, to measure ourselves and each other according to quantifiable accomplishments. In the disability narratives that get published, for instance, you are far more likely to find stories about “how I saved my child from autism” or “ten famous people with autism,” or “how a one legged woman climbed the Himalayas,” than ruminations on being wordless in a wordy world, or the fullness of an enigmatic life.
I wanted to represent Felix, and give an idea of his influence over me, our family, and our neighborhood. Living with him has taught me so much about violence and beauty, communion and loneliness, language and love. I wanted to share what I’ve learned, and to convey the immense worth and power of people like Felix. They are not to be pitied or condescendingly applauded. They are not a problem to be solved. They are an opportunity to widen our perceptions and connect with one another. They are not other, they are us.
“A wonderfully uplifting book… a must-read for anyone touched by or raising a child with disabilities as well as those in the medical field.” Booklist Starred Review
“In this honest and loving book, Eliza Factor describes what it is like to raise a disabled child, and in doing so reflects on the meanings of parenthood itself: on how we put into words a passionate attachment that cannot be exercised in words. In evocative, vivid prose, she brings to life her own heart, the heart of her son—and, by extension, the hearts of her readers.” Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree
“So moving and thought provoking about the deepest things: the value of life, the varieties of communication…beautiful.” Rebecca Mead, New Yorker staff writer and author of My Life in Middlemarch
“In this honest memoir that vibrates with unconditional love…readers get a sense of the complexity of Felix… A frank, compassionate, and highly detailed account of the roller coaster ride of caring for a disabled, autistic child.” Kirkus Reviews
“I picked my nails as I read this book. I searched for hope, and did not find it. And then hope slapped me square across the face. I’m not sure how she prevented herself from making easy meaning of her family’s story, but she did, and in so doing, left the reader with a gift, as promised in the title, of immense and strange beauty, a vision of truth with all its messy tendrils of confusion, brutality, and hope left on display. Her command of the pen and understanding of the mechanics of the heart makes this a read ripe with riches. It isn’t always easy, but I dare you to come out of this book unchanged.” Lulu Miller, co-host of the NPR program Invisibilia
“Moving and insightful… this passionate story of a mother’s quest to help her child will resonate with many readers.” Publisher’s Weekly
“An aching, raw, honest, exquisitely written memoir of art, parenting, and the unexpected places life takes you.” Marie Myung-Ok Lee, author of Somebody’s Daughter
“Eliza Factor brings an unflinching eye and a fierce intelligence to this story of a mother’s journey of love and discovery with a severely compromised child. She writes: “Disability is deeply interwoven with life; it is not something that can be escaped. Better, then, to get to know it, to begin to learn from it, not alone in one’s cracked fortress, but in the company of others.” Ms. Factor’s company on this journey is a man of unfailing faith and superhuman endurance, and in the end a community whose guiding star she is. This story of small victories and immense love inspires and instructs as it breaks and then renews the heart.” Sterling Watson, author of Suitcase City