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Twin: A Memoir

3.04  ·  Rating Details ·  360 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
"Extraordinary...An unsparing but deeply compassionate inquiry into [family] life."
-Michiko Kakutani, "The New York Times"

As Allen Shawn probed the sources of his anxieties while writing the acclaimed "Wish I Could Be There," he realized that his fate was inextricably linked to his autistic twin sister. Mary, who has lived in a residency center for more than fifty years.
ebook, 240 pages
Published December 1st 2010 by Penguin Books
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Jan 26, 2011 Julie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was expecting a memoir about both Allen Shawn and his twin, Mary. Instead, while Mary is there in the shadows, this is all about the author. The construct that the absence of his twin affected everything he did in his life did not ring true.

I was really hoping that Mary's story would be told but I still don't feel that I know her. That does seem to be the author's point - that he doesn't know her and because of her autism, no one knows Mary but Mary.

I came away feeling very fortunate that my
Jan 26, 2011 Kathy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I rarely put a book down, but I cannot finish this one. I feel like it was marketed as this memoir about a man and has autistic twin sister, but seems to be more about the man and how he interprets every single event as somehow subconsciously relating to his sister. It seemed quite tedious to me and after about 135 pages, I have decided to give it up and move on. I did find the beginning parts related to the family and his sister's diagnosis interesting, but then it just focused on his steps thr ...more
Jan 19, 2011 Jane rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
If only the book had matched its excerpt, this would have been an absorbing read. However, the author is so focused on himself and his every mood and thought, that I found it very tedious. Mr. Shawn's attempt to link his past thoughts, actions and moods somehow to his absent twin is unconvincing. This is yet another memoir of an individual who has been psychoanalyzed for years. These books seem to take on a romantic tone, the author being entranced with the drama of his tortured self.

I did enjoy
I can't believe I read the whole thing.

Shawn has a probably autistic twin sister, who was institutionalized at the age of 8, in the 1950s. She has lived in institutions (nice private ones, not state-run) ever since.

Per the book flap: "Twin reconstructs a parallel narrative for the two siblings, who experienced such divergent fates yet shared talents and proclivities."

Um, no.

"Twin highlights the difficulties American families coping with autism faced in the 1950s"

Um, not so much.

Shawn in a succe
Colleen Clark
Jan 24, 2011 Colleen Clark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Knowing that Allen Shawn was going to give a talk about this book I read the first one "Wish I Could Be There" first.

I read half of "Twin" before the reading on Jan 20 and the rest in the next couple of days.

These are compelling memoirs of being a twin, having that twin - or any sibling for that matter, with a serious mental disability - autism with mental retardation in this case -and the effects of these circumstances on family dynamics and the memoirist's psyche. The fact that Shawn's father
Jan 25, 2011 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
A book in equal parts about Shawn's twinsip with his autistic sister and his own, seperate experiences as he grew up and into his roles as composer and father in her absence. He writes, "In Mary's and my case, twinship was a story of profound togetherness followed by ever-widening degrees of seperation". This is the story of the Shawn family and their personnal experiences with Mary, as well as a story of autism itself, and a deeply personnal and truthful memoir of the author. This is a complex ...more
Sarah Laing
I thought this was fascinating, particularly the part about the author's eccentric, obsessive father, the editor of the New Yorker. Also a very moving account of having a twin sister with autism, who is removed from the family at the age of 8, and all the implications that might have. But, as with a lot of non-fiction, it was a bit circular, making the same arguments over and over. Perhaps, as a jazz-inspired composer, he liked to use standard motifs which he could improvise upon. His family's a ...more
May 13, 2011 Becca rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Becca by: Book Review
Moderately interesting; about a man whose twin sister was institutionalized when they were 8. He seems to find symbolism in ideas and things that barely warrant it, but he is convinced by his argument so it is somewhat interesting to follow his thread. His sister is autistic but because she was born in the 40's did not receive treatment like that of today. Her diagnosis, too, is unclear because of the more limited knowledge about mental processes of that time. The author spends a lot of time app ...more
Heidi Ha
May 28, 2015 Heidi Ha rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The author had very little contact with his sister beyond early childhood, so most of what he writes are guesses and inferences from clinical notes and his brief times with her. In the end, what is mysterious and unknowable remains mysterious and unknown. The book delves pretty deeply into the author's world of musical genius, which didn't really interest me, and frankly, didn't seem to have much to do with his twin (although he tries to draw some parallels that come across as weak to me).
A book about Allen and his autistic fraternal twin Mary, who is institutionalized. Very good and interesting except for the parts where he starts talking about his composing and just goes on and on about it. I liked the way he felt about his sister, very loving and respectful. Not faked at all, you could see his genuine affection for her.
Keenan Johnston
Aug 28, 2014 Keenan Johnston rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this would be more about the experiences of being a twin with an autistic person, and how the connection overcame the differences. Instead, it was a book about autism and had very little to do with his relationship with his twin.
Nov 06, 2012 Kerfe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Allen Shawn is a thoughtful writer, and this memoir of how he and his family's life was shaped by both the presence and absence of his autistic twin sister Mary contains a lot of unanswered, and perhaps unanswerable, questions.

Shawn's sister is sent away from home at age 8, and he is still dealing with this severed relationship with his twin. "To me there was nothing wrong with Mary. She was simply herself, an inextricable part of the world I knew."

The family was full of secrets and repressed fe
Feb 11, 2011 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in music, autism, psychological problems, memoirs, families
Shelves: memoir
I had a hard time putting this book down; I found the author's life and thoughts very interesting.

p. 1: "I don't like losing things. I keep a list of books I know I once had, and know I've read, that I have somehow misplaced...Even when I lose a pair of pants, a sense of vexation...arises in me that seems out of all proportion to the loss, and if the pants are suddenly presented to me apologetically at the dry cleaners, I feel a strange giddiness...It is strange that in this world in which every
Jan 13, 2011 Bonnie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book very absorbing. Allen Shawn, a musician and composer, had a twin sister, who was autistic, and was sent away at age 8 to a school. Shawn is sympathetic to the pressures of the time (the 50s), when children with mental disabilities were invariably sent away. He also recognizes that his parents were probably influenced in their decision by the fact that his father had a dual life, with another woman and apparently an adopted child (that isn't gone into in the book). At the same t ...more
Apr 23, 2011 Cheryl rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was by the brother of actor Wallace Shawn, who plays Vezini in "The Princess Bride". Allen has a twin sister who was diagnosed with Autism at a time when it wasn't understood and she was placed in a home for those with the same diagonsis. Later it was determined what she had was Asberger's Syndrome. Allen talked of how everyone, including his parents, talked about her, treated her and behaved toward her as if there was something wrong. However, to him and his older brother, it was just the ...more
Mar 25, 2013 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Been planning to read this book since it was published - finally got around to it. Allen Shawn is brother of Wallace Shawn, son of long-long-time editor of New Yorker magazine, a composer and a twin. At about age 5 sister, Mary, was diagnosed as being autistic and retarded. At age 8 she went to live in a residential facility, and has lived in special settings since that time. Unlike some families that totally abandoned their troubled children in the 50's, the family always visited her two or thr ...more
Aug 14, 2011 Nancy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Allen and Mary were unexpected twins born into a Jewish family in the 40s. They were loved and nurtured but Mary did not respond as Allen did. Eventually it became very apparent that there was something "wrong" with Mary. She did not respond to physical contact; she would not make eye contact and she was over sensitive to change and stimuli. Diagnosed with autism, Mary was moved to a home when she was 9 years old and Allen tells of their contact and the impact her separation had on his life. The ...more
Jan 18, 2011 Liz rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: autistic families
Recommended to Liz by: people magazine
This is the story of Allen Shawn and his sister Mary. Mary is sent away from home at a young age because she is autistic. As a twin to Mary, Allen has a hard time adapting to this separation. As I delved farther into this book, it seems to me that the whole family had some form of autism. In fact, I felt the Dad and Allen were affected the most, but were still able to function to a point in the normal world. They both suffered from agoraphobia. The whole family was just a twisted mess, including ...more
Dec 31, 2010 Jeanne rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jeanne by: EW
Shelves: memoir
Allen Shawn, and his twin sister, Mary, were born in the 1950s. Though they were twins, there were not exactly the same. Or even close to the same. You see, Mary was diagnosed with autism at a young age. At the age of eight, Mary was sent away, never to live with the family again.

But this story is not about Mary or what it was like to have a twin with autism. This is Allen’s story, which, by the way, is not really worthy of a memoir. His family refused to deal with his sister, and he immersed hi
Jan 10, 2011 Laura rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
The sections about the author's parents' highly unusual marriage and his twin sister's institutionalization for severe autism and ambiguous mental handicaps were quite fascinating. However, I found his introspective musings about his own character development as influenced by these factors to be strangely flat and devoid of interest. I skipped all these sections and ultimately listened to about half of the book, possibly less. It's a shame because his writing on topics such as our developing und ...more
Aug 06, 2012 Mary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Picked this up on a whim when gathering vacation books for the trip to the Adirondack house. The concept of how the autistic twin impacted the other twin intrigued me. The most disturbing part was the historical info on how his sister was perceived and treated in the 50s and 60s. Made me wonder about the care of those with far less means. The author spent a good deal of time discussing his own neurosis and phobias, seemingly unrelated to the twin aspect, at times coming across as overly self-inv ...more
Jan 26, 2016 Laurie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a an interesting and well written memoir , that may be useful on more than one count. I could see this as being an validating read for anyone who is or has been a twin, particular part of a duo that is unevenly matched and for anyone that is a product of a polygamous parent there is a resource here from which to draw a loving son's interpretation of his parents behavior during trying times. And for people trying to dissect their own neurosis, Allen Shawn can offer some direction as he si ...more
Mar 17, 2011 Judy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting memoir about separated twins and autism. Allen and Mary Shawn were born in 1948 and by the time Mary was 2 years old, she was already exhibiting signs of autism. By the time they were eight years old, Mary was removed from the family and placed in a residential facility. She never lived with the family again. The author deals with the strains that autism can place on a family, the effects that the separation from his twin has had on his life, and the evolution of the medical commu ...more
William Cunion
Memoir from composer Allen Shawn, whose twin sister has autism. Tender description of his twin sister, coupled with a sincere, if possibly incomplete, effort to make sense of his own life as her other half. She has been institutionalized for most of her life, and the author seems to be trying to come to terms with what this has meant to the life that he has had. Truly a noble effort, and he impressively brings her into the story, despite her limitations; but ultimately, I’m not sure how well it ...more
Joanna Vaught
There were certainly highlights -- I particularly enjoyed the history of the Autism spectrum woven in with his sister's diagnosis -- but there were multiple times where I lost interest and realized that I had "read" 3-4 pages and hadn't processed any of it because I was thinking about my life, and would have to go back and reread.

I am curious enough about Shawn's own mental illness -- which is only alluded to here -- that I am considering reading "Wish I Could There: Notes from a Phobic Life."
Jul 11, 2012 Anni rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Touching book. Maybe because I'm a parent, or specifically a parent to twins, but also because of my passion still for psychology this book is few I can say at times brought tears to my eyes.

A story about twins that are separated at the age of 8. Shawn's twin sister is sent to live in a home, for the rest of her life. She had autism. But it was in such a time and so little was understood about autism that she lived her life away from her family. The family would visit maybe twice a year.

Eye ope
Ann Evans
Mar 21, 2011 Ann Evans rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read this if you're interested in autism and its effects on families. Allen Shawn is the son of long time New Yorker editor, William Shawn, and the brother of actor Wallace Shawn. He, himself, is a composer of note. His twin, Mary, was diagnosed with autism at a young age and then, at the age of 10, was separated from the family - sent to a home for children with mental disabilities. The loss of his sister influenced Allen Shawn in many ways throughout his life. This book is a search of what mig ...more
I liked it, comparing my own experiences with the students I've worked with over the past 4.5 years. Autism is such a diverse disorder, appearing so differently in many people. Though heartbreaking, I was fascinated while reading about dealing with such disorders in the '50s and '60s by sending children to institutions. Autism is certainly not easy to understand but I think our society has come a long way in including these individuals in society.
Mar 11, 2011 Kathleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Allen and Mary Shawn are fraternal twins born in 1948. A few years later, Mary's development doesn't keep up with Allen's and it is learned that she is autistic. This book chronicles the family dynamics, complexities and guilt of Mary's life, as it unfolds in two institutions. Allen also must come to terms with his father's affair which is described well near the end of the story. Though provoking and well written.
Good audiobook that explores twinship and individualism as well as several other themes (fidelity, mental illness, family dynamics, quality of life, etc.) Loved the use of personal records to tell Mary's story but would have liked more about her and less about Allen, if possible. Definitely a good book club pick because there's tons to discuss starting with autism education and ending with what it means to be human.
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