HAPPINESS

The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After

Heather Harpham

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,

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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 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.

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  • Henry Holt & Co.
  • Hardcover
  • August 2017
  • 9781250131560

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$27.00

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About Heather Harpham

Heather HarphamHeather Harpham has written six 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.

Praise

“Absorbing. . . .A beautifully-written, insightful tale.”Good Housekeeping, “The 21 Best new Books for Summer 2017”

“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

Discussion Questions

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?

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