What would it be like to live in a world where no one seems to understand you, or to value the same things you ? That’s Edward’s life. He values data and organization and routine. He keeps a daily log of the weather report. He watches a Dragnet episode every night in consecutive order.
It seems like he’s the only one who cares about these things. Scratch that—Edward wouldn’t settle for assumptions. But he does tell us that when he tried eHarmony, “its system and its twenty-nine levels of compatibility couldn’t find anyone for [him].” That’s a pretty convincing proof point.
Edward is a 40-something man who’s been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
I have little first-hand experience with Asperger’s and OCD. [Note: Medical professionals have recently removed Asperger's Syndrome from the list of clinical diagnosis; instead, the diagnosis will be folded into the Autism spectrum]. I’ll be reviewing the book from purely a literary standpoint, treating Edward just like any other character. If you’re curious about how one person diagnosed with Asperger’s related to the novel, I highly recommend you check out the website “Life With Aspergers.” She has a great take on 600 Hours of Edward:
“600 Hours of Edward features an Aspie protagonist (Edward). It’s the first novel I’ve read which does so. At first, I wasn’t sure exactly how well I’d be able to identify with Edward. After all, he’s a fiercely OCD aspie with a fixation on weather and Dragnet. His social issues are also so severe that he’s generally unemployable. Since I’ve never been unemployed, I didn’t think that I’d relate all that well.
I was surprised. It’s true that in the beginning, I didn’t identify with him much at all but as I got further and further into his character, I found myself identifying more and more with him.”
From a reader’s standpoint, I thought Edward was a fantastic character. He’s consistent and truthful, and there were so many points in the book where I wish I could’ve reached out and hugged him. But most importantly, he showed us the world through his eyes — eyes that are much, much different than mine. Isn’t that what good fiction is supposed to do?
600 Hours of Edward takes us through an especially challenging — and perhaps even transformational — 600 hours of Edwards’ life. Soon after we meet Edward, he gets new neighbors: a single mom, Donna, and her curious nine-year-old boy, Kyle. Their arrival into the neighborhood helps set the stage for domino-style change in Edward’s life.
From the start, the small family is a disruption in Edward’s life. Kyle pops by occasionally, and Edward struggles to stay polite while worrying that Kyle will disturb his carefully created routines and rituals.
Soon, however, Edward begins to feel affection for the boy and his mom, and tries to do what he can to make their lives better. Sometimes he succeeds — like when he builds a crazy awesome bike for the little boy — and sometimes he fails… spectacularly fails.
At times, author Craig Lancaster strains credibility with how quickly Edward is able to adapt to new situations. For example, in one scene, Edward has a fairly in-depth conversation with Donna about her life and how she feels. There’s nothing that we’ve seen from Edward that makes us think that he’d participate in such a long, emotional conversation, especially when he frequently reminds us that short conversations in the grocery store can drive him to a major freak out.
Aside from these few missteps, the author paints a fairly realistic picture of a person’s journey to become (forgive the cliché) a better version of oneself. Like Edward, we all take baby steps forward and then fall behind a few squares. It’s not only realistic — it also makes for very interesting reading.
The book also does a thorough job of getting the reader to identify with Edward. Each chapter of the book starts with Edward’s account of his day. He records the time he wakes up and the weather for the day. Every night, he watches an episode of Dragnet, and then recaps it for readers. Similarly, towards the end of the book, Edward lists his favorite football games, and explains why they’re his favorites. It’s exhausting. While I do appreciate how the author uses these “interludes” to make the reader stop and understand how Edward’s mind works, I do think these pieces could’ve been significantly shortened once we get deeper in the narrative and readers have already identified with Edward.
One of my favorite aspects of the book is Edward’s complicated relationship with his father. His dad, a rich, politically powerful man, seems to be embarrassed of his son. Still, he tries to take care of Edward, and has set up a home and a system where Edwards’ physical needs, like food and rent, are taken care of easily and without hassle. Edward doesn’t see it this way; instead, he sees his father building a prison to force Edward to remain hidden from the rest of the world. Edward doesn’t know any of his parent’s friends, or really anything about their lives. Instead of calls and emails from his parents, Edward gets cease-and-desist letters from his father’s attorney. And though he pays every bill, Edwards’ dad doesn’t seem to understand — or want to understand — his son. This tension between father and son is one of the standout parts of the novel. Their relationship is filled with complexity, and really gets at one of the book’s core themes: we all see things differently.
Unfortunately, at the end of the book, this tension between father and son wraps up a bit too cleanly, making this otherwise realistic relationships less interesting and moving than it could’ve been. That’s true of the ending in general. Everything seems wrapped up too neatly with a little bow.
I’d still highly recommend 600 Hours of Edward to anyone looking for a good character-driven book that will make you smile — perhaps while shedding a tear or two. It’s an inspiring book about how we can each make changes to shape our own lives, even when we think it’s too hard.
So, what are you going to do with your next 600 hours?