A Memoir: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After
Other Editions of This Title:
August 2017 Indie Next List
— Luisa Smith, Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA
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Winter 2018 Reading Group Indie Next List
— Sarah Pease, Buttonwood Books and Toys, Cohasset, MA
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Reese’s Book Club x Hello Sunshine’s April 2018 book pick
A shirt-grabbing, page-turning love story that follows a one-of-a-kind family through twists of fate that require nearly unimaginable choices.
Happiness begins with a charming courtship between hopelessly attracted opposites: Heather, a world-roaming California girl, and Brian, an intellectual, homebody writer, kind and slyly funny, but loath to leave his Upper West Side studio. Their magical interlude ends, full stop, when Heather becomes pregnant—Brian is sure he loves her, only he doesn't want kids. Heather returns to California to deliver their daughter alone, buoyed by family and friends. Mere hours after Gracie's arrival, Heather's bliss is interrupted when a nurse wakes her, "Get dressed, your baby is in trouble."
This is not how Heather had imagined new motherhood – alone, heartsick, an unexpectedly solo caretaker of a baby who smelled "like sliced apples and salted pretzels" but might be perilously ill. Brian reappears as Gracie's condition grows dire; together Heather and Brian have to decide what they are willing to risk to ensure their girl sees adulthood.
The grace and humor that ripple through Harpham's writing transform the dross of heartbreak and parental fears into a clear-eyed, warm-hearted view of the world. Profoundly moving and subtly written, Happiness is a memoir that radiates in many directions--new, romantic love; gratitude for a beautiful, inscrutable world; deep, abiding friendship; the passion a parent has for a child; and the many unlikely ways to build a family. Ultimately it's a story about love and happiness, in their many crooked configurations.
Praise For Happiness: A Memoir: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After…
Reese’s Book Club x Hello Sunshine’s April 2018 Book Pick
An Indie Next Pick
One of Bustle's 13 Best Nonfiction Books Coming Out in August
"Happiness by Heather Harpham is a beautiful memoir that follows Heather’s story as she gives birth to a baby girl, Gracie, whose health—and life—are at stake. Heather reconnects with Gracie’s father as their daughter fights for her life, and the harrowing events that follow will have you up all night, reading to find out what happens next. There’s heartbreak, joy, and lots of love—I won’t give it away, but trust me: Have your tissues ready. I really loved this memoir, and I know you will too!” —Reese Witherspoon
“An amazing story of love (almost) lost, then found.” —People
"A heartfelt exploration of mortality and life, this memoir also explores the complex pulls and pushes of human relationships, and the deep debt we owe to family, friends, and modern medicine. At heart, it is a sobering mediation on the lasting impermanence of its titular emotion, happiness." —NPR
"Harpham. . . .[brings] us along on her raw, real journey of healing—not just of her child but also of her marriage." —Oprah.com, "5 Memoirs That Will Blow Your Mind"
"[Happiness is a] book about one of the healthiest romances I’ve ever seen committed to paper, about neighborly grace, about balancing one child’s needs against another’s. . . . Harpham’s memoir feel[s] not just moving but necessary...so perfect, so affirming, so buoyantly brave." —The Millions
"Utterly gorgeous. . .heartbreaking. . . staggering. . . If you’re looking for a book to love, I recommend it. . . .[Happiness] is told in riveting, plot-twisting fashion. . . .But I’ll say that it’s also told with care and courage and humor, and it will deepen your understanding of not just life with a sick child, but life." —Chicago Tribune
"Harpham's writing is tender and frank. . . .Happiness is a fast read, a compelling story about life and death, illness and health, and, above all, family." —Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Absorbing. . . .A beautifully-written, insightful tale." —Good Housekeeping, "The 21 Best new Books for Summer 2017"
"Harpham is a heroine for our times...captivating." —The Los Angeles Review of Books
"Heather Harpham's moving memoir, [Happiness] is a page-turner." —Redbook
"Happiness is an incredibly moving account of survival and love that will inspire readers to hold on tight to what’s truly important." —Booklist
"[Happiness] is filled with both pain and beauty, and [Harpham] shares a clear-eyed view of messy relationships and the journey toward something resembles joy...[A] powerful memoir." —BookPage
"In this moving memoir. . . [Harpham] describes with warmth, fearless honesty, and humor the harrowing saga of what happened after she gave birth...Harpham has written a heartfelt exploration of familial bonds and the sometimes incredibly bumpy journey one must take to get to contentment." —Publishers Weekly
"Recently, memoirs by such dazzling writers as Ann Patchett and Dani Shapiro have explored and illuminated happiness: what it means, how we find it, and how hard won it can sometimes be. Now add Heather Harpham and Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After to this stellar company. With intelligence and lyricism and compassion, Harpham gives us her story of the rocky road that sometimes leads right where you want it to." —Ann Hood, bestselling author of The Knitting Circle, The Red Thread, and Comfort: A Journey Through Grief
"At first glance, Happiness is a wry, honest, captivating story about parenting a sick child and that would be enough. But it turns out that Harpham is up to something even more interesting here, exploring the complexities of love. Told with abundant charm and insight, this book is a beautifully drawn portrait of one family—its comforts, disappointments and, on the very best days, moments of grace.” —Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, bestselling author of The Nest
"An extraordinary and bewitching book, Happiness has staked a claim among the most beautiful and moving portraits of parenthood and partnership." —Susan Cheever, bestselling author of Treetops: A Memoir, and Home Before Dark
Picador, 9781250301147, 320pp.
Publication Date: November 13, 2018
About the Author
Heather Harpham has written several solo plays, including Happiness and BURNING which toured nationally. Her fiction, essays and reviews have appeared in MORE Magazine and Water~Stone Review.
Harpham is the recipient of the Brenda Ueland Prose Prize, a Marin Arts Council Independent Artist Grant and a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and SUNY Purchase and lives along the Hudson River with her family.
Happiness: A Memoir was a Reese Witherspoon Book Club x Hello Sunshine Book Pick.
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. Do you think Happiness is an apt title for this memoir? Why do you think Heather chose this particular, single word as the title?
2. How do you face adversity? Do you hunker down, as Brian described his tactic, or do you reach out for people to huddle with, like Heather did? Or do you take another approach?
3. “I was suddenly afraid of being bitten by a creature whose solitary home I’d invaded” (20). Think about Heather’s early relationship with Brian and what this line means in that context. Do you think her use of the metaphor is intentional?
4. What did you think about the way Brian and Heather’s relationship evolved over the course of the book, and in particular during the medical ordeals they faced? Do your own relationships thrive during challenging times? Do obstacles you’ve had to confront with other people bring you closer to them, or test the relationship?
5. On page 68, Heather describes the Nepalese attitude toward appreciation, how people in Nepal don’t typically express gratefulness because acts of kindness and community are expected in their culture. Discuss gratitude. At what points does it emerge in Heather’s story?
6. At the start of chapter ten, Heather pictures Gracie as a balloon floating into the sky with Heather and Brian holding on tightly to its string. What does this striking metaphor for parenthood mean to you?
7. Though Heather and Brian decide not to risk having a second child (only to have their intentions thwarted), Heather poses the question of whether it is “ethical to have a second child to save the first child” (101). What do you think? If you were forced to make a similar choice, what would you do?
8. Could you see both sides of Heather and Brian’s argument about whether to subject Gracie to the bone marrow transplant? Talk about risk. Is it easier to assume such risks for yourself or on behalf of someone you love? In which scenario would you be more comfortable taking a life-threatening risk? Are you a risk-taker by nature?
9. A fellow parent in the transplant clinic said to Heather, “This will seem crazy, but don’t make friends. You don’t know which kids will make it and which won’t” (179). Talk about Heather’s response to this statement and what it meant to her later as she got closer to some of the families in the clinic. Do you understand both of these perspectives?
10. Reflect on the support Heather and Brian’s Brooklyn neighbors provided, particularly the fundraiser they organized which yielded enough money to cover Gracie’s expenses in North Carolina. Do you believe in the kindness of strangers? Is there a time when you felt the power of an act of kindness, large or small, from a stranger in your life?
11. On the book’s last page, Heather writes: “We find happiness, if we find it at all, on accident,” disputing the idea of a “blueprint” or roadmap to happiness. What do you believe? Is happiness a function of design or grace? Architecture or serendipity? What in your own life brings you most happiness, or even joy, and is that something you’ve created consciously or simply found?
12. We watch Heather’s spirituality fluctuate with the many twists of Gracie’s medical journey. Many people who go through traumatic experiences turn toward faith to help them cope and find understanding, whether it’s embracing religion or spirituality for the first time or reaffirming their existing faith in some way. Has there been a time in your own life where you rediscovered, or reinforced, your spiritual understandings? Have you ever turned away from your faith in times of crisis?
13. In Chapter 50, Heather writes, “Parents of perilously sick kids never stop being afraid,” (291). Have you gone through something in your life that you are not able to shake even though the event itself is long in the past? How do you cope with lingering fear or uncertainty?