600 Hours of Edward — Craig Lancaster

In Craig Lancaster’s 600 Hours of Edward, Edward Stanton’s world is turned upside down in just 25 days (600 hours, to be exact, and I like to be exact). Edward is a 39 year old man, suffering from Aspergers’ syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. For him, the world outside is overwhelming, and baffling.

From the time he gets up (0738 for 219 days this year, because it’s a leap year), his world is regulated by numbers and routine. He shops on the same day at the same time (Tuesday, immediately after his therapy session), eats the same things (spaghetti, nine times a week), and watches Dragnet every night at 10 p.m.

All of this changes when a new neighbor moves in across the street. His new neighbor, Donna, has problems of her own, and as Edward is drawn out of his small world, he is drawn into her struggle.  Her son, Kyle, is the one who initially catches Edward’s attention.

There is no simple way to describe this story. It’s written in first person, and deftly uncovers the inner workings of someone challenged by the million bits of chaos encountered daily. The defensive techniques of ritual and routine are presented in a humorous and endearing manner. You’ll feel that Edward is more an overlarge collection of human quirks, than some creepy weirdo hiding behind the curtains.

It’s a tale of human connection, and one man overcoming personal obstacles to establish a friendship outside his comfort zone. A story of human connection as he struggles to connect with his estranged father. For Edward, connecting is difficult because there is no regulating a relationship or containing the vagaries of interactions with others. Because relationships are messy, uncontrollable things

I really struggled with one thing in this novel.  The degree of change that Edward undergoes in these 600 hours. The ability to release a set of rituals is not as easy as implied. A person with Aspergers’s cannot just choose to change the patterns of their life. In some cases, they are fully aware of the circumstances they live with. Behavioral issues are not so clear cut. These things are done, not because they make sense or comforting, they are rigid defenses to keep the outside world at bay. Edward can’t really just CHOOSE not to do these things. The world becomes too overwhelming.  In particular, when Donna begins to have problems with an ex-boyfriend, it would almost be necessary for Edward to retreat into those routines that have protected him this long.

It is a charming story, however, and it lets us sense the frustration and panic of someone whose disability makes the world just too large and just too threatening.  Lancaster brings Billings MT to life using real landmarks and streets to populate Edward’s world. One thing that is fictionalized is the Billings Hearald-Gleaner.  The Hearld-Gleaner is also seen in Quantum Physics and the Art of Departure, and Edward’s father figures in another Lancaster novel The Summer Son.

Craig Lancaster’s second novel about Edward, “Edward Adrift” comes out in April 2013