Spelling Love with an X: A Mother, a Son, and the Gene that Binds Them

Front Cover
Beacon Press, 2007 - Biography & Autobiography - 203 pages
A medical memoir and poetic meditation on raising a child with a genetic disorder

Clare Dunsford is the mother of a twenty-one-yearold son with Fragile X syndrome, the most common inherited cause of mental retardation. Spelling Love with an X is the first literary memoir about living with Fragile X, which affects the lives of over a million people in the U.S., including those with the full mutation, their families, and treatment professionals.

When her son was first diagnosed, at age seven, Dunsford received the devastating news that she and three of her four siblings carry the Fragile X premutation and had therefore unknowingly passed on the full mutation to several of their children. An English professor by training, Dunsford draws on classic poetry to explore her new identity as a genetically “flawed” individual and reflect on her life with J.P., a colorful young man with great verbal dexterity and a lovably cheeky streak. “My instinct to find order and consolation in literature,” she writes, “lends a distinct voice to the story of my family’s DNA.” Brimming with warmth and intelligence, Spelling Love with an X shares the disarming insights of a compassionate scholar on motherhood, literature, and genetic inheritance.

"Part poetry, part scientific inquiry, this wonderful memoir is, above all, the story of being complexly human in a world filled with fragility and strength, shadow and light. Clare Dunsford navigates the X that has mapped her own and her son's paths with humor, honesty, and clear-sighted intelligence—and in prose that sings." —Elizabeth Graver, author of The Honey Thief and Awake

“Clare Dunsford does much more than inform us concerning a disorder we know too little about. Through a prose both lucid and beautiful, she is able to communicate the strangeness, even the poetry, of fragile X.” —Clara Claiborne Park, author of The Siege: A Family’s Journey into the World of an Autistic Child and Exiting Nirvana: A Daughter’s Life with Autism

"Spelling Love with an X is a beautifully written journey of a woman toward understanding—of herself, her son, and the twists of fate and DNA that bind them and all of us. Clare Dunsford's powerful and moving memoir is rich with humor, poetry and, most of all, love." —Mitchell Zuckoff, author of Choosing Naia: A Family’s Journey


What people are saying - Write a review

Spelling love with an X: a mother, a son, and the gene that binds them

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

In this touching and poignant literary memoir of living with fragile X syndrome, Dunsford (associate dean, Coll. of Arts and Sciences, Boston Coll.) shares her journey of discovering a diagnosis for ... Read full review

Selected pages


Anticipation Once Upon a Time
Hairpin Turns Doctors and Divorce
Linkage Family Ties
Replication Fork Motherhood
Base Pairs Like Mother Like Son
Transcription and Translation Speaking of Love
Repeats Obsessions
Saltation Coming Up for Air
Mutants and Wild Types You and Me against the World
Vectors What Lies Ahead
Resources for Fragile X Syndrome

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2007)

Clare Dunsford is an associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at Boston College and has been a contributing writer for Boston College Magazine. She was previously an adjunct lecturer in English at Boston College and Harvard University.

Bibliographic information