Happiness by Heather Harpham

Happiness by Heather Harpham

Cover image provided with permission from Henry Holt & Co.

When I reflect on this book, I think of one word: Grace. It’s a story where many things go wrong, but then there are moments of miraculous blessings. Where people are given second chances after making poor decisions, and some are given the ultimate gift of life after looking death right in the eye. Unfortunately, it’s a story where the unthinkable happens, the death of children-innocents-and it reminds me of the lyrics from Hamilton, after Alexander’s son is killed:

There are moments that the words don’t reach

There is a Grace too powerful to name

We push away what we can never understand

We push away the unimaginable

Ultimately, I consider the grace with which Harpham weaves several stories that tell how she became the mother of a very sick little girl, how she fought for her with all her might, and how through a great deal of suffering and countless moments of despair, she found happiness, in spite of everything stacked against that outcome.

This book is a memoir in which Harpham deftly describes how she became pregnant with her daughter, Gracie, how this strained her relationship with Gracie’s father, Brian; a man who although loving her deeply, was terrified of parenthood and walked away from their relationship during the pregnancy (the worst I know, but Harpham tells the story so beautifully and with such clarity that you almost see where he’s coming from. Almost.) Once Gracie is born, it’s clear that she is sick, she must undergo regular blood transfusions to keep her alive. What follows is a beautiful story of hope, love, strength, heartbreak and resiliency as this little clan goes through setbacks and surprises to make Gracie well.

What I really loved about this story is Harpham’s ability to understand other people, to forgive and connect with them in a way many of us simply are not capable of.  She’s able to see her own pain, her own unlucky hand, and still find goodness and offer kindness to others. While the book’s title is Happiness, so hopefully it doesn’t spoil anything to say it has a happy ending, she points out that going through this experience doesn’t make her immune to future sadness. I find that a very brave way to look at the world.

This is a great book for someone looking for a very moving story, who is not afraid to cry a good deal while reading it. Harpham’s writing is seriously top-notch and she is a gifted story-teller, I could not put this one down because I had to know what was happening in this little world, to this family and the people who surrounded them. If you are looking for a book about family, grit, and love, this one is for you.

Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham

Published on: August 1, 2017

I read this as: a library book


An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Jones, Tayari 2018.02“It turns out that I watch too much television. I was expecting a scientist to come and testify about DNA. I was looking for a pair of good-looking detectives to burst into the courtroom at the last minute, whispering something urgent to the prosecutor. Everyone would see that this was a big mistake, a major misunderstanding. We would all be shaken but appeased. I fully believed that I would leave the courtroom with my husband beside me. Secure in our home we would tell people how no black man is really safe in America.” – Celestial, An American Marriage

A young black man is accused of a terrible crime in Louisiana. Despite both his and his wife’s testimony that they were together, and no evidence, he is convicted and given a 12 year sentence. What happens after and because of this injustice is an exploration in how lives and love go on after being handed the worst cards possible. Black people in America are all too familiar with these circumstances.

I can see why this was the latest pick for Oprah’s book club, it was beautifully written and compelling, much of it was a collection of letters between Roy and Celestial, the husband and wife of the titular “Marriage”. Although the story centers around their relationship, many marriages comprise this story. Spanning unions with casual betrayals to those with the fiercest loyalty imaginable, they all sought to establish their own as the ultimate display of marital union, and who’s to say they aren’t each correct? If we are honest can we say that relationships are largely impacted by luck and timing? Would the strongest marriage stand a terrible blow? Could a flimsy union survive by luck of the draw?

After watching 13th last year I became very aware of how our justice system is tilted against African-Americans. This book brought to light what it’s like to walk in their shoes, being treated like less than human, the years lost and dreams dashed all for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. This sad story was given a lot of grace and honesty, I think it’s a very important book for this time and this country.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Published on: January 29, 2018

I read this as: a library book