The Ha-Ha - Dave King

I want to say yes and of course and I'm sure you're right. But I've tried, in my way, and I'm invisible here. Can't you see that? Maybe I'm overtired, too, but I miss my old lonely life, with doughnuts and Dr. Pepper for breakfast, the housemates indifferent, and no baffling child in my sights.

Howard Kapostash was in Vietnam for only sixteen days when he was severely injured by a landmine. Since then, he has not been able to speak except occasionally in grunted syllables. Mostly he makes do with a few gestures and nods of the head, or no communication whatsoever. But there's nothing wrong with Howard's mind, and in his narration of this story we are privy to his inner thoughts, the things he wishes he could tell people, his frustration at being treated as if he's stupid or crazy or both.

His high school girlfriend, Sylvia, is a single mom, strung out on drugs, and when her sister stages an intervention and puts her in rehab, she calls Howard (her codependent go-to-guy) to take care of her nine-year-old son Ryan. Howard agrees (he always agrees), thinking that she'll only be a week before she quits the program. But as she sticks it out in rehab, Ryan shakes up the life of Howard and his housemates.

It's a beautifully written book, with pain and joy constantly butting up against one another. King puts us in Howard's shoes and we experience all his shifting moods during good days and bad. From the outside Howard would be a difficult person to sympathize with: he has fits of rage and gives up easily when he can't get a point across, his behavior is often unpredictable and incomprehensible. But by letting Howard tell the story, we see so much more.

I found myself rooting for Howard, wanting so badly for things to work out, but his daydreams of reuniting with Sylvia and becoming a typical family unit just didn't seem realistic, and I doubted that's how the book would turn out. In the end, there is optimism and hope for Howard, but there are also doors that are shut, options that are closed off. It's a moving book that doesn't sugarcoat Howard's life. His own flaws and mistakes are harshly portrayed, as are his disappointments and Sylvia's manipulations.

I'd come across this book a while back (it was published in 2005) but never managed to read it until it showed up in the library, and I'm really glad I gave it a chance. I should mention that there are brief portions of the book that are graphic (some sex, some violence), but for the most part they're integral parts of the story.

Fed to jonathan's brain | September 03, 2008 | Comments (0)


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