Daniel Isn't Talking

Daniel Isn't Talking

by Marti Leimbach


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Melanie Marsh is an American living in London with her British husband, Stephen, and their two young children. The Marshes’ orderly home life is shattered when their son Daniel is given a devastating diagnosis. Resourceful and determined not to acceptt what others, including her husband, say is inevitable, Melanie finds an ally in the idealistic Andy, whose unorthodox ideas may just prove that Daniel is far more “normal” than anyone imagined. Daniel Isn’t Talking is a moving story of a family in crisis, told with warmth, compassion, and humor.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307275721
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/08/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 899,059
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.81(d)

About the Author

Marti Leimbach is the author of several novels, including the international bestseller Dying Young, which was made into a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts. Born in Washington, D.C., Leimbach attended the Creative Writing program at University of California, Irvine, and Harvard University. She currently lives in England and teaches at Oxford University’s Creative Writing program.

Read an Excerpt

Daniel Isn't Talking

By Marti Leimbach

Random House

Marti Leimbach
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0385517513

Chapter One


My husband saw me at a party and decided he wanted to marry me. That is what he says. I was doing an impression of myself on the back of a motorcycle with my university sweetheart, a young man who loved T. S. Eliot and Harley-Davidsons, and who told me to hang on to him as we swept down Storrow Drive in Boston, the winter wind cutting through our clothes like glass. If I allow myself, I can still remember exactly the warm smell of his leather jacket, how I clung to him, and how in my fear and discomfort I cursed all the way to the ballet.

We sat on the plush red seat cushions and kissed before Baryshnikov came on stage, the whole of his powerful frame a knot of kinetic energy that leapt as though the stage were a springboard. I always insisted on sitting up front so I could appreciate the strength of the dancers, the tautness of their muscles, the sweat on their skin. My lover of motorcycles and poetry once licked my eyeball so quick I hadn't time to blink, and told me he dreamt of crossing a desert with me, of living on nothing but bee pupas and dates. In warm weather he trod across the university campus in bare feet and a four-week beard, singing loudly in German, which was his area of study, to find me in the chaste, narrow bed allocated to undergraduates. There, while the church bells chimed outside my window, hetook his time crossing my body with his tongue.

"I'm Stephen," said my husband, a stranger to me then. Dark jeans, expensive jacket, an upper lip that is full like a girl's, against a startlingly handsome face. "Are you plugged in to something?"

My legs were straddling empty air, my back vibrating with an imagined Harley engine, my arms wrapped around the nothingness in front of me. I was laughing. I wasn't sure at first that Stephen was even speaking to me. I was surrounded by young women-he could have been addressing one of them. But the crowd I was entertaining with this impression seemed to shrink back with Stephen's approach. Apparently, they all knew him, knew the type of man he was and to back off with his arrival. I didn't know anything. My lover, now dead, was killed in a highway collision on his way to work one morning. I couldn't even drive a motorcycle, knowing only to hang on to the boy in front of me, whose head was shielded by a shining black helmet. His precious head.

"Pretending to be on a motorcycle," I said. Suddenly, the whole idea seemed stupid.

"Do you like motorcycles?" asked Stephen.

"I used to."

"Would you like a drink?" he asked, nodding toward the bar. "A glass of wine, perhaps?"

I said no, I don't drink. This wasn't actually true, but I had no idea I was speaking to my future husband. He was just some guy. None of my answers were supposed to matter.

He smiled, shook his head. He wasn't easily dissuaded. "Let me guess, you used to drink," he said.

He was the first man that night who looked right at me instead of slightly over my shoulder, who didn't make me feel he was comparing me to a whole list of others. And the first man who had offered me a drink, I might add. "I'll have a glass of white wine," I told him.

He nodded. And then, without a shimmer of uncertainty, he reached out and touched my hair with his fingertips as I searched the floor with my eyes.

"Canadian?" he asked.


"What brings you to England?"

A combination of circumstances, that was the truth. But it was far too much to explain. "I don't really know," I said.

He laughed. "Yes you do." He was so confident, his eyes steady on me as though he'd known me all his life. "You didn't just get lost," he said.

"Yes, that's exactly it. I got lost."

He put his hands in his pockets, pushed his face a few inches closer to my own, then away again, smiling. He behaved as though we'd just concluded some tacit agreement and I found myself unwilling to challenge him. "I'll get your wine," he said, and disappeared into the crowd.

"Give me a time frame for this," says the shrink. He has a clipboard and a mechanical pencil, a reading lamp that shows his skin, dark and smooth, like an oiled saddle.

"Six years ago. Spring. On windy days the flowering trees sent petals through the air like confetti."

Now we are to talk about my mother.

"She died," I tell the shrink. He waits, unmoving. This is not enough.

So I explain that it was cancer and that I wasn't there. When later I saw the time indicated on the death certificate, I realized that I had been at an ice rink, looping circles in rented skates in a small town near Boston. What does that say about me? About my character? The truth is I couldn't have watched it happen. I mean, the actual moment of death-no. She'd lost both breasts, had a tube stuck into the hollow which would have been her cleavage, shed her hair and her eyebrows. Even her skin peeled in strips. I'd been through all that with her, but this final part was different. There was no helping her.

The worst part, she once told me-this was before things got too bad, before she was entirely bedridden-the worst part, other than the fact that she was dying, was the humiliation of having to go around in maternity clothes. Her belly, its organs swollen with cancer, gave the impression that she'd reached the third trimester of pregnancy. Shopping with her amid the fertile exuberance of expectant mothers had been for her a macabre, debasing affair. We did it. Somehow.

"I should be buying these things for you," she said, holding her credit card in the checkout line. I was twenty-two and looked more or less like all the other women in the shop trying to figure out how big a bra to buy now that they'd outgrown all their others. Except I wasn't pregnant, though secretly I would have liked to be.

"I could only give birth to an alien," I said. "We'd have to buy onesies with room for three legs."
"You will have the most beautiful babies," said my mother. "You are the most beautiful girl."

I remember there was a jingle that kept playing in the shop, a nursery rhyme tapped out on a toy piano. I smiled at my mother. "Yeah, but cut me and I bleed green," I said.

Just before I left for the airport she said, "Let me see you again one last time. Who else can make me laugh?"

I promised her that. I promised her in the same manner with which I made her meals she could not eat, took her to the bathroom in the middle of the night, called the ambulance, sat with her as she lay in bed, exhausted, the telephone on one side of her and photographs of her children (now grown) on the other. I promised I'd be back in no time at all, but the afternoon she died I was gliding along a frozen rink in my woolly socks, my mittens.

The fact is I had no intention of being there when she died. I could not face it. I am a woman of great energy, compulsively active, given to fits of laughter, to sudden anger, to passionate and impossible love affairs. But the truth is I am a coward. Or was a coward.

I call my shrink, Shrink. Not to his face, of course. I also call him Jacob. He seems as fascinated by my being American as I am by his being black, a Londoner, and having almost no visible hair on his body at all except this one thing, his graying mustache, which he is often seen poking at with a slim forefinger. He has the delicate hands of a surgeon, but everything else about him is stocky, compact. His leather chair is faded where his head rests, and there are cracks around the edge of the cushion where his legs bend.

"So that's it, that's all you want to say about your mother?" he says. He sighs, crosses his legs. His laconic air is in direct contrast to my own pulsating, nervous energy. He says, "She died and you weren't there. Okay, how about before that? What about when you were growing up?"

My shrink is a man who wants to reveal me, and yet I know nothing about him. I am sure this is the right and proper way for a patient and therapist to operate, but it feels cold to me. I cannot think of anyone in my life now who wants to see inside me for what is good and right, only those who want to find what is wrong. And that's so easy-everything is wrong. I tell Jacob, "My mother was at work. I don't remember. It doesn't matter."

"Run that by me again?" he says.

"What about how I feel right now?"

It is as though I've eaten a vat of speed; my mind races along trailing incoherencies and half-finished thoughts. There's a continual restlessness in all four of my limbs; I am hungry almost all the time, except when I eat. Two bites and I feel sick. All this has come upon me gradually over the past months. That confident, breezy woman who Stephen saw at a party all those years ago is not me anymore. I am her shadow.

"Jacob," I sigh. "Be a pal and medicate me."

He says, "Melanie, you're going to need to relax about all that or else we won't get anywhere at all."

But I can't relax, which is why I am here. I used to read books by the score but now I find I am unable to concentrate. I go to the library, trying to find a book that might help me, but even the self-help books seem indecipherable. I'm lucky if I can remember a phone number. So instead I wander. I visit all-night cafes on the Edgware Road where teenagers suck sweet tobacco from hookahs; I go traipsing round the New Covent Garden Market, picking lonely flower stems from the shiny cement floor. I'll be at a train station at midnight with no ticket. I might be writing a list on a notepad held in my palm. Or staring at the blank walls of the station or wherever I am, which is anywhere you can linger instead of sleep. During the day, my hands sometimes tremble with fatigue. I squint at sunlight, splash cold water on my face, review the notes I have written to myself reminding me what to do. I set the alarm on my ugly electronic watch, a watch I found in a public toilet at Paddington, in case I fall asleep by accident. I have children to look after, to sing to, play with. I regard them as one might the queen's largest jewels. They receive my best-my only-real efforts.

"I'm just after some help," I tell Jacob. "I am worried all the time."

"I'm trying to help you," he says. He smiles and his teeth are like piano keys, his lips like a sweet fruit, tender and large. His children are grown now. That is all I know about him. "Tell me what troubles you," Jacob says. I am meant to pour myself into him as though he is an empty jug. This I cannot do.

At home I frantically organize clothes and toys, collect the sticks from Popsicles, the interesting wrappers from packets. Egg cartons turn into caterpillars; jam jars become pencil holders, decorated in collage or made garish in glass paint. Setting out the paints and crayons and shallow dishes of craft glue, I prepare for when Emily wakes, my little girl who loves animals and art. Daniel will not draw, will only break the crayons in half, rip the paper. I tell myself he is young yet. A voice inside me says, "Wait and you'll see!" But the voice isn't real and the boy won't even scribble on paper. This is part of the trouble.

"My son," I tell Jacob. He nods. I am meant to continue.

Every morning I take the children to the park, hanging on to them as though someone might snatch them from me, drug them and spirit them away from me forever. This is a great fear of mine. One of my fears. The only reason I haven't been to the doctor for Prozac is that I am convinced that the doctor would alert social services who might then come and take the children away. This is a completely ridiculous idea and I know it-but that's why I'm at the shrink's. Although I have to admit I'm not getting anywhere here.

I say now to my shrink, to Jacob, "Medicate me or I will fire you."

"What's that mean?" Jacob says. "Fire?"

I shake my head. I feel like a seed husk spent beside a loamy soil, like an emptied wineskin drying in the sun. "It means I stop paying you," I sigh.

He smiles, nods. But he does not, at this point anyway, prescribe.

Emily has a mop of blond curls billowing around her face, smiling eyes, aquamarine. Her baby teeth, spread wide in her mouth, remind me of a jack-o'-lantern, and when she laughs it is as though there are bubbles inside her, a sea of contentment. She carries Mickey Mouse by his neck, and wears a length of cord pinned to her trousers so that she, too, has a tail. Kneeling on a chair beside the dining table, she instructs me on the various ways one can paint Dumbo's relatives, who wear decorated blankets which require much precision. Unlike most children, who only paint on paper, Emily enjoys painting three-dimensional objects and so, for this reason, we own nine gray rubber elephants, some with trunks up and some with trunks down, that she has decorated many times. She has yet to find an elephant she thinks is a suitable Dumbo, and so we just have the nine so far.

Daniel has one toy he likes and hundreds he ignores. The one toy he likes is a wooden Brio model of Thomas the Tank Engine. It has a face like a clock, framed in black, with a chimney that serves almost as a kind of hat. The train must go with him everywhere and must either be in his hand or in his mouth. Never in Emily's hand and never washed in the sink, as I am now doing. No amount of reassurance from me, no promise that this will take only one minute, less than a minute, does anything to soothe Daniel, who pounds at my thighs with his small hands, screams like a monkey, opening his mouth so wide I can see down his throat.

Excerpted from Daniel Isn't Talking by Marti Leimbach Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

“Gripping. . . . A tale of a mother’s fierce devotion. . . . Leimbach has a gift for emotionally searing fiction leavened with humor.” —People

The introduction, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Daniel Isn’t Talking by Marti Leimbach.

Surprisingly funny yet deeply moving, Daniel Isn’t Talking is the story of a mother and a family in crisis. When Melanie Marsh learns that her son Daniel is autistic, she becomes determined to fight to teach Daniel to speak, play, and become as normal as possible. Melanie’s enchanting disposition has helped her weather some of life’s storms, but Daniel’s autism may just push her over the brink, destroy her resolute optimism, and bring her unsteady marriage to its end.

What sets this novel apart from most fiction about difficult subjects is Marti Leimbach’s ability to write about a sad and frightening situation with a seamless blend of warmth, compassion, and humor.

1. There are occasional flashbacks throughout the novel that give a glimpse of what Melanie was like before she had children. How would you describe her character before she became a mother? How has she changed?

2. Melanie and Stephen’s house empties out of possessions as Melanie sells their things to pay for Daniel’s various therapies and other needs. What does Melanie mean when she says, “I am in a different market than the rest of the world” [p. 164]?

3. How are the subjects of race and class treated in the novel?

4. Andy says he understands Melanie as an “autism mother.” What is the implication of this term? How might Andy’s perception of “autism mothers” be different than that of most people Melanie encounters?

5. When Melanie tells Veena about Daniel’s diagnosis, she makes an outright appeal for Veena’s compassion and sympathy. Instead, Veena says, “You are a white woman living in a white paradise. This is not the worst thing that can happen” [p. 59]. What does Veena mean by this? Why would Melanie find these words comforting?

6. How do you describe the connection between Melanie and Veena? How are these apparently very different women similar? What about their circumstances helps them to understand each other? Would they have been friends if Daniel was normal?

7. Early in the novel Melanie thinks she may be “unstable” [p. 13]. Would you agree with that? Following Daniel’s diagnosis, does she seem more or less “stable” to the world around her? To you as a reader?

8. On the morning of Daniel’s diagnosis, Melanie’s immediate reaction is to say, “I feel that a change has taken place. I cannot help feeling as though I started the journey this morning with my beloved little boy and am returning with a slightly alien, uneducable time bomb” [p. 55]. How has Daniel’s diagnosis temporarily changed his mother’s perception of him? What examples can be seen of her resisting this changed perception? How has Stephen’s view of his son been altered by the diagnosis?

9. How does Daniel’s diagnosis affect his sister, Emily? In what ways does Melanie try to shield Emily from the full implications of having a brother with autism? In what ways is she successful? In what ways is she not successful?

10. Was Stephen’s departure useful in helping Daniel? In the long run, was his absence a good thing for Daniel? For Emily? How might things have been different for the children if Stephen had stayed?

11. At the end of the novel, Melanie states that Stephen “has shifted all blame for our marriage onto me. Onto my whims and desires. At the same time he has cleverly cast his bid. He is smart. Maybe that is what I found so attractive about him. I do not find it so attractive now” [p. 274]. How has Stephen made Melanie feel responsible for the failure of their marriage? Do you think she is to blame?

12. Melanie says that Andy “has touched a part of me that was dying and brought it to life once more. This belongs to him” [p. 183]. What does Melanie mean by this statement? What is the unusual nature of Melanie and Andy’s connection and deepening relationship? What do they know about each other’s families and backgrounds? Does this matter?

13. In Chapter twenty-three Melanie sees a group of young women at a bus stop. About one of them she says, “I want to tell her that she is a woman of great virtue. A woman of grace. That I admire her. And that I see her differently than perhaps she sees herself. Now that I have truly seen her, now that I have taken notice” [p. 258]. In what sense has Melanie “truly seen” this young woman? What stops her from speaking to the woman?

14. How is the reader’s experience of the novel affected by the knowledge that Marti Leimbach herself is an “autism mother?”

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Daniel Isn't Talking 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
sdskier More than 1 year ago
The author obviously researched autism. The descriptions of the child with autism were accurate and believable. The emotions the parents expressed were also realistic.
bhowell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was recommmended by Anita Shreve, Deborah Moggach, and Joanne Harris and that was good enough for me. I bought it and read it and I certainly was not disappointed. At the age of two, Daniel is diagnosed with autism and nothing will ever be the same for his family. The story is told by his mother Melanie who is determined to teach Daniel to be as normal as possible but she finds little support from the experts that she consults and none from her husband. This heartbreaking story is delivered with warmth and humour and is a great read. Ms Leimbach is a fine writer and I am glad to have discovered her.
paperhouses on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Seemed like chick lit for autism moms. Was entertaining, poignant, a little on the harlequin romance side with the perfect child-play-therapist-who-saves-the-child developing into a love interest. But shoot, if we don't need a little escapist fantasy, who does?
SignoraEdie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was drawn to this story because the plot involves a young family trying to come to grips with the reality of a small child who is not talking. Since I have a grandchild who had language delays, I readily identified with the struggle, fears and pain of the young mother, an American woman who married a British man and lives in England. The writing is so candid and realistic, that I was certain the author wrote from personal experience. After finishing the story, I wrote an email to Marti Leimbach and to my surprise, she answered immediately and yes, she is the mother of an autistic son. This book does not sugar coat the situation and yet is not depressing. Realistically dealing with the family dynamics the novel shows that such life events impact everyone in the family and the author champions honesty and authenticity.
amyrenee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Much too pointed in its blame of the causes of autism, and what the ¿right¿ therapies are, with not enough actual science to back up the claims. Reads more like a help book for parents of autism with a little story thrown in than an actual novel, and there was not enough depth of exploration into the family dynamics that the diagnosis created.
lrobe190 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When a young boy is diagnosed with autism, the whole family is affected.The story is told through the eyes of the mother who has been aware that her older child is different from other children his age. The father doesn't want to acknowledge that there is a problem. As the mother searches for every possible way to help her child, her marriage falls apart and she finds herself falling in love with Daniel's therapist.This is a very readable and realistic portrayal of a family in crisis dealing with autism.
Nikkiroo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed thsi book. I have worked with many children with austism and found this book to be insight of family dynamics. I hated the father in this story although through the story I began to understand he was just fearful and felt sorry for him.
JGoto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Daniel Isn't Talking is a book about a child with autism and the way his family deals with his diagnosis and treatment. It's an easy read - I finished it in one day. Leimbach's descpiptions of Melanie, Daniel's mother, were realistic and inspiring. However, the book had more of a "chick lit" feel to it than I like. Her husband was a predictable jerk, without much depth. Leimbach's point that having a child with disabilities takes its toll on a marriage was made, but it would have been a better novel if she had tried harder to present the complex feelings of all of the characters, including Daniel's father. That said, it was great as a light read.
lesleydawn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book greatly. It was a story that made me want to cry in the beginning and cheer at the end. Though slightly predictable, it made me feel good about myself as a mother and a woman because I could place myself in Melanie's shoes and understand her guilt, frustration, and finally, strength. Truly beautiful.
bobbieharv on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A novel that reads like a memoir about a mother dealing with an autistic son, her husband leaving her, and a man who works with autistic children with whom she falls in love.
kathyappleton on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good read. Mother in the story experienced many of the same emotions I did about my daughter with Down Syndrome.
porchsitter55 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Daniel Isn't Talking" by Marti Leimbach is a glimpse inside the life of a mother who is passionate about finding the key to unlock her young autistic son's mind. Her husband, Stephen, is a man who does not look beyond the surface of Daniel's illness, which eventually drives a wedge between the couple, and they separate.Melanie seeks out every doctor, every alternative, every possible method to try to set her son free from the quiet prison of autism....and meets a man named Andy who begins the process of "play therapy" with young Daniel. Over time, Daniel begins to respond to this therapy, slowly but surely....and Melanie's hopes begin to soar.Melanie goes back and forth, wishing her husband to be a participant in this effective treatment for their son, as well as to come back home, at least for the children's sake (there is a young daughter too, who is not autistic). But between her longing for her husband to come back home, she begins seeing Andy as more than just a therapist for her son, but as a man who seems to care for her and her family in a personal way.The book is a page turner, smooth and very well written. If the reader knows a person with autism, you will relate to this book. If the reader does not know a person with autism, you will find this book to be a fascinating look inside the complex world of a challenging and sometimes misunderstood illness.I very highly recommend this book to all. I'd love to read more by this excellent writer.
SheilaDeeth More than 1 year ago
Vaccines don’t cause autism. Unorthodox ideas don’t cure it. But autistic kids are real individuals with real families, and Marti Leimback’s novel convincingly evokes that reality with engaging humor and enthralling detail. The only way I knew this book was fiction, in fact, was from the way those details drew me to share the protagonist’s life rather than just hearing about it. An American woman living in England, Melanie feels that slight detachment from reality familiar to expats everywhere. A fracturing marriage adds to the separation of real life from intended dreams. But her autistic child is even more detached, and Melanie fights to get the right treatment for him—treatment that might work—running the gamut of “was it the vaccine?” “will goat’s milk help?” and “please don’t lock him away in a school for no-hopers.” Daniel isn't Talking isn't a personal experience story or a self-help book. In fact, it would probably be risky to use it for self-help as, among other things, it honestly explores the doubts a mother might have about the vaccines and the prognoses given her child. But it's an enthralling novel, filled with memorably characters, humor, pathos and hope. Its miracles are those small miracles of real life, and its message offers a hope worth pursuing, for mothers, wives, carers and children alike. Disclosure: I picked it up at a book exchange because I have a relative with autism.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Was a great inside look into a family with a Autistic child.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an okay story. I just I wish I had known it was fiction. There are so many inspiring true stories, why bother with fiction?
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joyryan More than 1 year ago
I am the mother of an autistic son and was feeling very alone and isolated. When I read "Daniel Isn't Talking" I felt like I was reading my own life story. It is so beautifully written and tells such a true and realistic story of a family who is dealing with the reality of raising a child with autism. It was real and heartwarming. I would STRONGLY recommend it to any mother who is struggling with her feelings of having a child on the autistic spectrum. It will help you to realize that you are not alone in this and your feelings are real and valid. I have also given this book as a gift to anyone in my life who I wanted to understand me, my son and my situation a little bit better. I have also given it to all of my son's wonderful teachers so that they are able to see the situation from the mother's perspective.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Daniel isn¿t talking , Melanie and Stephen have two children Emily who is fore years old and Daniel who is three years old who likes to play and is full of joy. Daniel on the other hand cries uncontrolled and is not cooperative. Living off biscuits and sweets. By the age of three he still hasn¿t spoken. Melanie very nervous and scared about Daniels behavior. Her husband Stephan believes that Melanie protects and is over reacting about Daniel. Melanie believes Daniel has a serious problem, and Daniels doctor diagnoses him with autism, Melanie is crushed. She thought by the age of three there would have been more warning signs and that he would have been diagnosed at birth .He husband wants to send Daniel to a special school with other children like him. Melanie believes that he is better off at home. and Melanie Stephan become distant and argue a lot. Melanie has to accept the fact that Daniel will never be the same as children his age, unable to do things like feeding and dressing himself. As you read ¿Daniel isn¿t talking¿ you will think to your self what would I do in Melanie position? I would recommend reading Daniel isn¿t talking if you have or know a child with autism, also if you are interested in family life.