This book covers a lot in under 300 pages. It won Barbara Kingsolver’s award for socially engaged fiction and is a compelling and hard-hitting story of life in a modern institution for children and young adults with mental and physical disabilities. The novel is a story told through the eyes of various characters; people who work in the institution and people who live there.
The story is harrowing and tragic, but there is some well-timed comedy in there, too. Nussbaum cleverly comments on the system that many disabled people from low-income families are forced to deal with with. Children in the care of this nursing home are badly treated, beaten, abused and some die. I have no idea how accurate this could be, and I am hoping that this place is an extreme example, but in a world where hospitals and institutions such as this are measured by what they cost to run, I can image that much of this does indeed happen to some extent.
The nursing home in question is one for disabled kids, but this is a theme that should be of interest to all of us. Though many of us are not disabled, we are likely to become so in old age, and may well end up in a nursing home of some kind ourselves one day.
The changing voices in the novel keep it moving quickly and allow Nussbaum to tell what might have been a complex story in an easily digestable way. I would expect nothing less of something recommended by Kingsolver, though, and look forward to any more novels that this playwright might publish in future.