After five years of marriage, David and Kristen Finch realise that their relationship, built over intimate coffee and dinner dates, has cooled into a detached and dispassionate union. Concerned that Dave’s egocentric behaviors might point to a diagnosis, Kristen calls Dave down to the basement of their home to complete an online Asperger’s questionnaire. Kristen’s suspicions are confirmed as Dave realizes that his quirks and compulsions are characteristic of Asperger Syndrome, a condition on the Autism spectrum.
In The Journal of Best Practices, Dave chronicles his efforts to cope with his Asperger’s diagnosis and save his flagging marriage through performance reviews, note taking and a self-devised list of best practices. Among Finch’s best practices are reminders such as, “apologies don’t count when you shout them” and “better to fold and put away than to take only what you need from the dryer.”
Simultaneously funny and heartbreaking, The Journal of Best Practices provides a candid view of life with an Autism-spectrum condition and the precarious work of resurrecting a failing marriage. Dave’s attempts to learn empathy are comically sweet as he works to overcome his preoccupations like studying the symmetry of his face and compulsive rituals like aligning the roofs of his neighbours’ houses.
One of the funniest parts of the book is when Dave begins to compare his marriage with Kristen to the marriage of their next-door neighbours, Andy and Mary. An accomplished baker and homemaker, Mary makes salsa from scratch and hangs shadowboxes on the walls with photos and mementos from family vacations. As Kristen and Dave struggle to define the gender roles in their relationship to determine the division of domestic responsibilities, Dave can’t help but compare his disheveled and disorganized home life with the magazine-ready family life next door. As his jealousy comes to a boiling point, Dave calls Andy to ask what he and Mary are doing only to hear that they are reading the new Harry Potter book to each other—a practice that they adopted so that neither one of them gets left out of a good book.
The Journal of Best Practices passed my “good book” test when I stopped mid-page to grab my husband and read aloud to him. Finch’s self-depreciating humour and earnest efforts to become a better husband kept me laughing while broadening my narrow textbook view of Asperger’s. As a newlywed, the book was especially relevant since some of Kristen and David’s relationship challenges—like “if you can’t tell whether you’ve offender her, just ask”—are not unique to Asperger’s, but relevant to any dating or married couple.
As Dave says in the book, “For those of you in a relationship blessed by perfect compatibility, continual bliss, and matching clothes (I’m looking at you, Andy and Mary), I’m happy for you. Thank you for reading this book to each other under a warm blanket. For the rest of us […] when you find yourself staring defeated at your spouse over breakfast or watching them hunt through the dyer for a pair of socks, and you wonder, Who in the hell did I marry? –and you will—I can now say with absolutely certainty: there is hope.”
Article by Kristen Kehner