Happiness: A Memoir‘s has the most delicious subtitle. It’s “The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After Happiness.” That alone is a good reason to read the book. About fifteen years ago, Heather Harpham was madly in love with Brian Morton. They were opposites in many ways: he was the planner to her spontaneous free spirit; he was rigid and ritualized while she was mercurial and chaotic; a writer, he lived the life of the mind while a dance, she lived the life of the body. More importantly, she wanted children and he absolutely did not want to be a father.
So when, Surprise!, she learned she was pregnant, he dumped her though “more in sorrow than in anger.” She moves back home to California and delivers a beautiful little girl whose blood shed red blood cells for inexplicable reasons. And so begins a long journey into the world of parenting a sick child. She keeps her asshole ex apprised of the birth, the illness, and he’s actually interested in coming out to meet his daughter, Gracie, and talk to the doctors. He leaves the kingdom of assholes and is enchanted by his daughter, engaged in the struggle to diagnose and, they hope, cure her. They reach for each other again, coming together as a family to be present for their daughter.And so begins the epic quest for answers and solutions that is told in this memoir that is so much more than a disease memoir.
Children who are born with an illness do not really know that there’s an alternative. They accept with equanimity what those of us who are healthy cannot comprehend. But even with the habituation from birth to being poked and prodded, Gracie is a remarkable child with vibrant curiosity and a charming sense of humor. She’s smart and incredibly centered. She is the breath and air that give this story life. If you don’t fall in love with her, I am going to have serious doubts about you.
But what makes this a particularly effective memoir is the hard-edged honesty that Harpham turns on herself and her partner Brian. Wielding self-reflection and truth-seeking like a scalpel, she pares back all the normal protective layers, exposing her anger, her selfishness, her pettiness. She does not try to make herself noble, because this is a memoir about actually finding happiness, not projecting its facade.
I had planned to dip in and out of this book while reading the stack of fiction on my Kindle. I figured I would read it over the course of a week or so. I generally read nonfiction slowly. But, I started it in the morning and finished it the same day. I had things to do that did not get done. I read it straight through, smiling, crying, and laughing my way through. Yes, it’s a memoir about happiness. It’s sometimes true that happiness finds you, despite the odds.
Happiness: A Memoir will be released on August 1st. I received an ARC from the publisher through a drawing via Shelf Awareness.