03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Review of Boy In The Moon

"There was comfort in our isolation. We could advance at our own pace, live by our own standards, a rare thing in an extrovert's world. It troubled me that my son couldn't speak, but we understood him anyway. We defined each other. Sometimes it was enough."

Let me begin with some self-disclosure: Over the last 30 years or so since I last met him, the author of Boy In The Moon has remained ingrained in my memory as he was in those days: sneering, insensitive, arrogant, intolerant of 'losers' and eager to ally himself with anyone richer or more privileged than those who remained in the lower strata where he himself originated. Despite the author's humble origins, he maintained a sense of smug entitlement that seemed impossible to shake.

In my own life, similar traits hung on my shoulders like an undiagnosed case of Asperger's syndrome, confounding me at every social turn. I was an offensive drunk, whereas Mr. Brown snorted coke in elevated social circles. Somehow Ian Brown's excesses appeared to be strengths. Cleverly, he interviewed rich people in effort to gain insight into financial trends, asking them questions like "how did you borrow your first million?"

Lord Black (currently of the Coleman Correctional Institution in Florida) offered detailed advice, and Brown accumulated enough wealth to afford the leisure to write a bad, first book, and then a second more mediocre one. Like the books of his mentor, no one read past the first page.

Well, there may be something concrete in what Malcolm Gladwell says in Outliers. A hockey player, a computer programmer, a writer of books, all of us need 10,000 hours to acquire our chosen craft and pass through our rough apprenticeships into mastery. In The Boy In The Moon, Ian Brown achieves mastery by writing in a vein that is as disarmingly personal as St. Augustine's Confessions one of the world's truly great (by which I mean life-changing) books.

The Moon-Boy is his son, Walker, a disabled child, born five weeks premature who suffers from CFC a mysterious developmental disease that is much rarer than Down's syndrome. At first, I uncharitably suspected Brown of using his child much as Richard Heene used his son Falcon in the recent Balloon Boy hoax. But Brown's book is not a disingenuous maneuver for media attention. Like Simon Pizar's Of Blood and Hope, another truly great book, Boy in the Moon speaks in the voice of a mature writer picking his way over rugged emotional terrain. Walker himself cannot walk although he does move; and Walker cannot speak although he can make sounds. In Walker's place, Ian Brown lifts and carries his 45 lb disabled boy into the light of the world while simultaneously making a loving apologia for his son's simple right to exist. So...

What Walker himself does most effectively is to occupy a place in his father's previously cold heart, one that provokes challenging questions about the quality of life, about our responsibilities as parents, about why suffering exists in the world, and about what we do with it or about it. In our increasingly secular world, we can avoid serious topics like these with ease. We can avoid thinking and feeling by choosing an embarrassing selection of diversions that prevent us from experiencing life deeply. CNN, pop-music, gizmos, the latest shoes...serve them up hot and ready and you may never have to think or feel or wonder about the purpose of small and painful lives whose ordeal challenges their caregivers and progenitors. The pop noises of our culture are superficial at best. Cole Porter recognized early that we lack a strong music that plays the bass notes of our souls and forces us together in dances that repeat the bitter-sweetness of life itself: tangos, and rumbas and beguines. So, if it does nothing else,Boy In The Moon shows Ian Brown's maturity, his depth of character.

Unlike Mr. Brown, I have three healthy, beautiful sons. His book made me look at each their lives with gratitude and renewed affection. It also made me regret my envy and realize that people born with huge hearts don't need to have them broken simply in order to find them. That is for the rest of us who are born frail, weak and inhuman. Boy in the Moon makes me realize how lucky I have actually been in my troubled, uneasy life.

At 56, I've begun to feel that life is a miraculous adventure with abrupt changes of direction and with -- thank god -- constant surprise. An idealistic mother had lead me to expect life would resemble the uplifting motets of Thomas Tallis and that I wold soar above the seamy details of life. Instead I dragged my heels in the dirt where I discovered the glittering but confusing shards of piano music by Thelonius Monk, Bill Evans and Jacques Loussier. Slow in the head, it took me decades to adjust, decades to begin to pick up and examine each glittering shard.

Well, the understanding we're given is always insufficient, but we can still expand it while acquiring and experiencing pleasure, warmth and reward. If we listen closely, our lives will tell us exactly what we need to know about ourselves and this will help us increase the varieties and abundance of pleasure and warmth. It is this process of self-discovery, self-knowledge and self-realization that leads us to the kind of mature acceptance and self love that enables us to love those close to us unconditionally for as long as we have them with us. -These are good thing to know, and these are exactly the points made by Ian Brown's first good book, The Boy In The Moon.

If there was nothing else in the world, these rich ideas and feelings would be worth living for. But, in addition to the people we love, there are sometimes good books, good music, good films, good food, and even, oddly, good enemies: people you don't like and who don't like you and who have no compunction about laughing openly at your vanity and weakness. It's a painful way to self-knowledge, but sometimes by doing this they point out what is most expendable and what is most valuable in your life.

Anyway, let's have a whole lot more of all the good stuff in 2010.

Happy New Year.

Visit's webpage for Ian Brown's The Boy In The Moon here: