by Steve Martin
I first read this novel several years ago. I remember enjoying it immensely, and I remember it being about a guy with Autism – perhaps Asperger’s, although at the time I didn’t yet have a child with a disability and wasn’t yet very informed at all about disability or autism (I can’t say that I am now knowledgeable about autism, but perhaps more so than I was back then, if only by virtue of association with parents of autistic kids and one or two autistic adults).
In any case, as it turns out, upon re-reading The Pleasure of My Company a couple of weeks ago, I discovered that it’s not about a guy with autism, but rather, it’s about a guy with OCD.
Daniel Pecan Cambridge, in his early to mid-thirties, lives in an apartment in scenic Santa Monica. He’s pretty disabled by his obsessive compulsive disorder (and for anyone who casually throws around the term “OCD” to describe any structured or high-strung behavior, you should know that OCD is an actual disorder, and it’s offensive to use the term flippantly or derogatorily, and you probably should stop doing it). He can’t step off of curbs; he can only cross streets at driveways that are directly across from another driveway. All of the burning lightbulbs in his apartment must add up to exactly 1125 watts at all times. He becomes incapacitated by anxiety if faced with anything that deviates from the structured rituals he has created for himself. Because of the severity of his compulsions and anxiety, he doesn’t drive and can’t work, so is on disability, and is visited once a week by a student shrink.
Despite his quirks, Daniel is charming and funny. He’s also sensitive and lonely, and his vulnerability makes him very endearing. He fancies himself in love with a middle-aged realtor who hawks apartments across the street; they’ve never actually met, but he is pretty sure that she won’t be able to help but fall for him once they meet face to face. An actress who lives in his complex is a regular at his apartment and Daniel manages to act as her surrogate therapist; her boyfriend, the big galumph, turns out to be a very good friend to Daniel, indeed (sniff sniff). And then his relationship with the student shrink takes an unexpected turn … well, I won’t spoil it.
Though neither autism or Asperger’s is ever mentioned in the book, nor in any descriptions of the book that I could find online, it does seem like Daniel does have some autistic traits – but what do I know? I wonder what the author’s intent was in that regard.
In any case, Steve Martin (yes, THE Steve Martin – actor, comedian, banjo player extraordinaire) is a gifted writer. I’ve read all of his novels and enjoyed them all. In this novel, he creates a believable, likeable character with a disability that, in the end, doesn’t disable him, and enriches the lives of those around him.
A real treat.