They say your first novel will almost inevitably be semi-autobiographical, and Keith Stuart’s debut is no exception. The father of an autistic son, Stuart has written a book that incorporates some of his own experiences whilst retaining a fictional narrative.
The story centres around Alex, whose marriage is on the rocks after the strain of work and home life has become too much for his relationship. His wife Jody takes care of their son Sam while Alex goes to stay with Dan, his best friend and chronic bachelor whose inflatable mattress isn’t making matters any easier.
Alex loves his son and wants to bond with him, but it’s difficult because Sam is autistic. Despite being on the ‘high-functioning’ end of the spectrum, Sam still finds it difficult to communicate and Alex is frustrated with feeling unable to get to know his son.
Then along comes Minecraft, a computer game with which Sam quickly becomes obsessed. Alex sits down to play the game with him, and gradually father and son begin to build a relationship, along with their video game castles and towers.
It’s a beautiful story, told with just the right balance of seriousness and humour. The conclusion is perfect – one of those that ties up all the loose ends and makes the story feel completely whole.
As a debut novel, it’s excellent: well-formed characters, an interesting storyline, and a description of life with autism that is neither overblown nor dismissive. I look forward to Stuart’s next novel.