Last night our book club gathered to discuss Lydia Netzer’s debut novel, Shine Shine Shine. It’s the story of a brilliant robotics engineer somewhere on the autism spectrum and his missionary kid wife, the troubles they grew up among, and the troubles they’re now facing.
Most of all, it’s the story of Sunny and what it means to be a self.
Sunny is the wife, who happens to be bald — not even eyelashes. When she and Maxon became pregnant with their firstborn, Sunny fell into a compulsion to become what she thought a normal mother and wife must be. She bought an assortment of wigs, false brows and lashes, pursued the proper — expected — kind of house and decorating, the proper kind of behavior and friendships, and, as their son grew, the proper ways to deal with his autism. Her attempts to mold herself and her family in this way clash with her own reality and theirs and cause friction — Maxon and the child are not moldable, nor do they really buy into or fully understand the necessity Sunny feels.
It turns out nearly everyone else is in some form of the same trap. Public personas don’t allow for living out of the authentic self, and hidden selves stagnate, unhealed and unhealing, stuck, like the dust in Les Weathers’ tub. Even the seemingly vulnerable grieving of one friend over her husband’s unfaithfulness has the feel of a meme, an expected and adopted pattern of behavior, more of a defense than a open path for real support, help, and healing.
Living out of the true self is real living. It involves identifying the false selves we adopt, metabolizing what we can learn from them, choosing again and again to be real instead, to integrate our self as much as we can. It is a tricky, bewildering, difficult process. We don’t want to be obnoxious, repulsive, too needy, too angsty. We don’t want to cause pain or inconvenience anyone. We don’t want to give anyone any reason to be irritated or disappointed with us. We don’t want to make anyone leave us. And sometimes, we don’t want to let certain people get any closer. It is not always easy to know when we are making a choice in order to be or seem more palatable to others, out of fear, or when we are making the same choice in order to bless or take care of others, out of compassion, respect, and love. It is possible to have both motivations — and more — mixed together in the same moment.
After a car accident knocks her wig out the window, Sunny begins to climb out of the rut she’d been running in — she discards the wig, she takes her son off the cocktail of meds and testing and interventions and finds he’s okay, she begins to face more squarely the horrible things she has seen and been part of. Meanwhile Maxon is in space, where a tiny meteor has put him and his colleagues in great danger…