Pepper Harding’s strange, funny, comic The Heart of Henry Quantum is a perfect little bon-bon to read. I lay down to read it before fixing dinner last night and read straight through to then end. My supper was a little late.
How many of us find our minds racing from topic to topic, a new stream of thought broken off by something we saw, a stream that wanders back toward the main river most of the time. Occasionally we note we have gone far afield in our thoughts and haul ourselves back. Sure, we can focus when we need to, but given a moment to wonder and wander, we do. That’s Henry, a wonderer, a daydreamer.
It’s December 23rd and Henry needs to get his wife a Christmas present, some Chanel Nº5 he thinks. We go with him throughout the day, but then we also follow his wife Margaret and his former lover, Daisy. Yes, during his walk to Macy’s to buy that perfume, he bumps into Daisy and those old emotions rise to the surface and are forced back down. We follow Margaret as she drives to meet her current lover and even allow Daisy after she leaves her encounter with Henry and goes home.
They take us back in time, to when they were in love, how love changed, how they have come to be where they are today. None of them are blameless, though since this is the story of Henry, we are going to probably prefer him to Margaret, but I think that is doing a disservice to her and to this book.
Margaret is cheating on Henry, that’s true. But then, he cheated on her. We might identify with him, thinking she is harsh, but if we really identify with him, we would remember that she was loving and there was something real and solid when they began and recognize that while she disappoints him, he disappoints her just as much. Margaret reflects what feminism can be. When she was young, she wanted her husband to be a go-getter, but thanks in part to his encouragement, she became what she wanted him to be. She did not have to live vicariously, she could do it for herself. I think that is powerful and I am glad for her. The author does have her shout one shockingly hard and cruel thing. I disliked that and felt it was actually out of character, except in the way she plays us being tough.
I loved this story. As I said, I read it in one cannot-put-in-down session. I liked all the characters, thinking they were a pretty normal mix of the selfish and the loving. Henry is a bit of a daydreamer, a kind man, but one that must get frustrating from time to time just because he is so agreeable. Margaret is strong now, strong in large part because Henry supported and encouraged her strength. She is also strong because he is not. Since she could not get that strength vicariously, she had to get it for herself. Daisy is even more a story of a woman who once accepted less for herself and then found that lacking and went out and changed her life, finding her own way.
Henry is interested in philosophy and science. Daisy is doing science research and so they both have interesting segues that take us all over from the metaverse to the inner eye. It’s a lovely journey.