SUMMARY (by the publisher): Mary Horton is content with her comfortable, solitary existence . . . until she meets Tim. A beautiful young man with the mind of a child -- a gentle outcast in a cruel, unbending world -- he illuminates the darkness of Mary's days with his boyish innocence. And he will shatter the lonely, middle-aged spinster's respectable, ordered life with a forbidden promise of a very special love.
Even nowadays, mental illness is still considered to be a taboo topic by many people. If nothing else, people feel uncomfortable talking about mentally challenged people just as they feel awkward being around them. Imagine how much more conspicuous people must have been about this topic in the mid 1970-s when there was a lot less known about mentally challenged people. Nevertheless, Coleen McCullough courageously dealt with the topic in her first novel, Tim, published in 1974.
In her novel, McCullough portrays two very atypical characters. On one hand, there is Mary, an independent, self-sufficient, educated, successful and rich business woman in her forties. She is very strong on the outside, but she has enclosed herself from feeling any emotion and operates on a very rational level. She is an up-tight old maid who is very reserved. She doesn’t have friends and pays a lot of attention to propriety.
On the other side, there is Tim, a mentally challenged young man who cannot read. Yet, his condition still enables him to support himself by physical work in a small construction company. Tim is also, in Mary’s words, the most handsome man she has ever seen. His family is loving and supportive and they deal with him in the best way they can. However, they do not have either patience or knowledge to help him make the most of himself. His parents taught him to fear and avoid women in order to protect him from being exploited and hurt. Nevertheless, they cannot fully protect him from suffering. People make jokes in his presence and his colleagues play sometimes very dirty pranks on him, but Tim is not upset because of the jokes and the pranks. What makes him suffer is that he doesn’t understand the point.
When Mary meets Tim, she has no idea he is a mentally challenged person. Learning about his condition and seeing his extraordinarily handsome appearance makes her want to help him. Mary, being an educated woman, starts teaching him how to read and count and finds out that Tim is capable of understanding and thinking about much more than everybody else thinks. He only needs a lot of time and patience.
Just as Mary’s knowledge and reason help Tim make progress, Tim’s innocence and simplicity help Mary learn how to open up, smile and relax. As their bond grows stronger, some people around them are far from being understanding. Therefore, Mary is faced with a choice either to disappear completely from Tim’s life or find a solution best for Tim. McCullough thoroughly explores the pros and cons of either choice and finally shows the reader that if a person is open to possibilities, there is much more to life than you can imagine.
RECOMMENDATION: This is a wonderful novel about human nature and how there is strength in every person’s weakness. Read it if you want to see how strange, yet simple, paths can life take.