The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to Be a Better Husband
by David Finch. Scribner, 2012
Asperger syndrome is not funny—or at least it is not supposed to be. People with the disorder, which falls on the autism spectrum, lack social intuition and may fixate on obscure topics. For many, the condition can be isolating. Yet in The Journal of Best Practices, David Finch finds hilarity in the disorder, all the better for his fellow Aspies, the self-anointed nickname for members of the Asperger community, and the rest of us, who gain an entertaining lesson on what their lives can be like.
Finch is 30 years old when he is diagnosed with the syndrome. Although his wife, Kristen, accepts Finch as is, for him the diagnosis is both a revelation and a road map to mending their marriage, a union he believes had unraveled because of his Aspie quirks.
Finch tries to overcome those tendencies—his self-involvement, obsessions, inflexibility and lack of empathy—by developing a guide to help him become if not “neurotypical,” at least easier to live with. A behavioral instruction manual appeals to Finch, who thrives on order. One of his many epiphanies comes after a workplace performance review, when he goes home and declares to Kristen that he wants one from her, too.
That may sound like a strategy sure to backfire, but Finch’s efforts to understand when to use his “best practices” and when to just be himself is part of how he learns to manage Asperger syndrome. Empathy remains Finch’s Holy Grail, and his struggle to master it is an ongoing source of frustration for him.
Despite this lack of social intelligence, Finch understands how funny his earnest attempts at empathy come off to neurotypicals. He puts his Aspie obsessiveness to admirable use, diving into reality television, couples massages and Cosmopolitan magazine to try to “get” his wife. He studies—and parrots—talk-show hosts to learn how to converse, and he adopts a persona to suit every occasion: Business Man for the office and Outgoing Man for social encounters.
That Finch ultimately discards these amazing compensatory skills is a testament to the happy medium he discovers. Forget a scarlet A for Asperger. Finch has earned an A for effort, and he should wear it proudly.