To Siri With Love: A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines
by Judith Newman (Harper, $27)
Judith Newman has a son with an unusual friend, said Jamie Fisher in The Washington Post. Gus is autistic, and about four years ago, when he was 12, he began interacting with Siri as if the voice-activated personal- assistant service on Apple’s iPhone were human. Though Gus knew Siri was an artificial intelligence program, he found her just the right partner for long conversations on subjects he finds interesting but no one else in his family does. Newman wrote about Gus’ relationship with Siri in a popular 2014 New York Times essay, but her book goes deeper. She’s “a gifted personal essayist, her warmth and wit recalling Nora Ephron’s,” and To Siri With Love is a love letter not to a particular Apple technology “but to her son.”
It’s “an uncommonly riotous and mov- ing book,” said Ron Suskind in The New York Times. Newman is brave enough to confess that she was in vague denial about Gus’ condition until he was diagnosed at 6. She’s also brave enough to include embarrassing moments like the time she watched Gus regale customers at the local butcher shop with every detail of his father’s imminent arrival home from London, ending the story with “and then he and Mommy will do sex.” Though Newman happily accepts most of Gus’ differences, some of the book’s “hardest-eyed” passages discuss the things he’ll never be able to do, or in some cases, the things his mother thinks he shouldn’t do, like have children of his own.
Newman is “so heartbreakingly honest” that at one point she lists the reasons she sometimes blames herself for possibly having caused Gus’ autism, said Lenore Skenazy in Creators.com. “Because I was old” and “because I was fat” are two of them. Then she writes that when such worries nearly overwhelm her, “I look at Gus the person, not Gus the mental condition, and I calm the hell down.” Her son, after all, is kind to others and passionate about his interests, including helping the doorman of the family’s apartment building do his daily tasks. For the moment, “Gus seems very happy.”