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The Story of Beautiful Girl
Grand Central Publishing, 2011
346 pp., $24.99
Interview by Amy Julia Becker
2 Minutes with ... Rachel Simon
Rachel Simon, author of the acclaimed memoir Riding the Bus with My Sister, has recently written the New York Times bestselling novel The Story of Beautiful Girl (Grand Central Publishing). The novel spans forty years in the lives of Linny, a woman with developmental disability, and Homan, a man who lost his hearing as a child. Through their stories, Simon also sketches the history of the institutionalization of individuals with both physical and intellectual disabilities and the shift away from that model, including the emphasis on group homes and self-advocacy.
As I was reading the book, I was impressed by how much I felt I was in Linny's head. I assume that some of your ability to write from the perspective of a person with an intellectual disability comes from knowing your sister Beth. Did you need to research this aspect of the novel? Was it difficult to write?
It's embarrassing to say this: It was easy. And I don't know if that is because Linny is so real and spoke through me, or if it was from knowing Beth and from all the public speaking I've been doing. Riding the Bus came out in 2002, and I'm still traveling with that. People are very forthcoming with me because of the openness in that book: they share their stories.
Beth has funny logic. I'll give you an example. When the movie for Riding the Bus got made, Hallmark sent it to us a few weeks early. We brought it to a bus driver's house and sat down and watched it with him and his family. And after we watched it, Beth had various reactions to how it deviated from the real story. We said to her, "Well, how do you feel about a famous actress like Rosie O'Donnell playing you in a movie?" And Beth said, "It's all right, but I'm not going to play her in a movie." That's her logic. So Linny's logic made complete sense to me. She thinks, "Kate prays. Can I pray? Well, Kate knows God's name, but I don't know God's name, so I can't pray."