600 Hours of Edward - Craig Lancaster 600 Hours of Edward

To put it succinctly, I was blown away by "600 Hours of Edward."

Edward Stanton is 39 years old, unemployed, lives alone in a house purchased by his very wealthy politician father, and has Asperger's Syndrome and OCD. Because of his disability, Edward finds comfort in routine, order and repetition bring calm. His obsessions with the time he wakes up each morning and the low/high temps each day give him a sense of peace. He is comfortable with his isolation. These are things about Edward's illness,not who Edward is.

Edward has no friends, and since the "Garth Brooks incident" when his father forced him to leave the family home, Edward sees his mother once a month at dinner and his father sporadically. Most of the time, however, Edward's father communicates by letter sent from his lawyer. These letters catalog Edward's infractions and regularly threaten to withhold support if Edward doesn't comply with his father's dictums. The only other interaction Edward has is with his therapist, Dr. Buckley. He sees her every Tuesday at 10:00 and likes her because she is "logical."

Edward is gentle and funny guy who despite his situation has some amazing insights. For example, Edward deals only with facts. Facts are indisputable. They are black and white. There are no confusing threatening gray areas. Belief is problematic according to Edward, because "if you rely on it too heavily, you have a lot of picking up to do after you find out you were wrong." Looking at family photographs, he thinks photos "are both moments in time and bits of memory." I admit I smiled each and every time he added "My data is complete" after recording the time he awakes and the high/low temperatures of the previous day according to the newspaper. I found it interesting and amusing how he had certain words and phrases that he loved: rambunctiousness, agog, eschew, and how he "like[d] the word "tool" in the pejorative sense" as well as "the word 'pejorative.'"

One of my favorite parts are Edward's letters of complaint. These letters evolved into a way for Edward to get troubling/upsetting things off his chest without getting into trouble. He writes them each night before going to bed but he never mails them. In this way he has some time and distance between the upsetting event and the letter declaring why he's upset. A sort of cooling off period. Edward finds that he can let these irritants go after writing his letters and filing them in their green folders inside a two-drawer file cabinet.

Eight years ago, he wrote and mailed 49 letters to Garth Brooks explaining how he had "damaged" country music and how his alter ego, Chris Gaines, "ruined a lot of pop music." The "Garth Brooks incident" resulted in a restraining order filed against Edward, a lot of public embarrassment for Edward's father, and Edward's banishment from his family home.

The letters are just as much a part of Edward's OCD/Asperger's Syndrome as his meticulous recording of the time he awakes each day. Thanks to his therapist, the thing that caused his isolation (the letters of complaint) is also the tool that helps Edward work through things that bother him. For example, Edward alternates painting his garage and house every other year. His visit to Home Depot to buy paint was not a pleasant experience so he composes a letter to the "unhelpful paint man at Home Depot". There were too many choices, and the "unhelpful man" failed at helping to direct Edward to one good color. So he ended up purchasing three colors, two of which didn't work out. He writes another one to musician Matthew Sweet explaining that although he is a fan of his music, his songs are not "upbeat" nor "reflective" nor "quiet" enough to be the music in the waiting room of his therapist. Edward also adds his critique of the "middle" songs on an album called "Blue Sky on Mars", and closes with hopes that Matthew will find himself more "optimistic" someday.

His foray into online dating was not successful. Joy, his "online paramour", and Edward meet finally, but Edward's inability to function well in social situations, his nervousness, and some miscommunication as well as Joy's own problems are a recipe for disaster. When Joy e-mails Edward several times after their "date" excoriating him for slights mostly imagined on her part, Edward responds not by e-mail but in several letters of complaint. Edward wonders what she means by the "click factor", explains he burped because of the wine, corrects her spelling of "compatible", and suggests she learn how to use apostrophes. To each subsequent e-mail Joy sends, Edward rebuts each criticism in a letter filed in a green folder labelled "Joy/Annette". In one of his final letters to Joy/Annette, Edward tells her he thinks "it's funny-not funny "ha-ha", but just funny- that [he's] the one with mental illness. " I found myself agreeing with Edward here.

Most of his letters are to his father -179 of them over eight years. In the beginning these letters detail the insults and distress and disappointments caused by his father. But as Edward's life undergoes changes so, too, do the letters of complaint to his father. The letters become less about Edward being annoyed, displeased or distressed by his father's actions and become more thoughtful and poignant observations about their relationship and how it has changed. In his last letter to his father, Edward regrets that they never were able to come to an "understanding", and he wishes he could find some way to make his father proud of him. He adds that he, Edward, has probably just "stopped trying."

Edward tells the reader from the beginning that this is how and when his life changed. And it DOES change. He learns about friendship - the good and the bad - from his experiences with Donna and Kyle. His relationship with his father finds a resolution that absolutely made me tear up. He is a different Edward at the end than the one in the beginning. Getting to know Edward was a wonderfully positive reading experience, filled with funny moments, thought-provoking moments as well as moments that made my heart hurt. If I have to find anything lacking in this book, it would have to be that I would have liked to see Edward walk across the street to Donna and Kyle's house and have that conversation with them about friendship.

I was never a fan of the Dragnet series but I can understand why Sgt. Joe Friday's deadpan delivery of "Just the facts, ma'am" would hold tremendous appeal to Edward. The inclusion of these summaries at the end of each "day" were essential to the story and added realistic detail to Edward's character. Were they tedious at times? Yes, but all of the tedious things Edward does over and over are part and parcel of his illness and his personality. Edward says at the beginning that this is HIS story of how his life changed (another therapeutic project assigned by Dr. Buckley). Watching Dragnet at 10:00 each night was as much a part of his routine as writing down the time he awakes, the temperatures, eating cornflakes for breakfast each morning and spaghetti for dinner each night, or saying "My data is complete."

"600 Hours of Edward" is one if the best books I have read in several years. I am excited to learn that a follow-up, "Edward Adrift", will be available in early April.