HAPPY by Alex Lemon
Kirkus Star


A Memoir
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An American poet recalls the medical maladies that befell him in college and beyond.

While a freshman at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., in the late 1990s, Lemon (Hallelujah Blackout, 2008, etc.) began experiencing episodes of blurry vision, mouth bleeds, dizziness, fainting spells and memory loss. He was slated to be the catcher on Macalester’s baseball team, but his symptoms combined to transform him into a tortured zombie. Nicknamed “Happy” by his college buddies, the author became anything but. An MRI test showed that he had suffered a brain aneurysm from a lesion precariously situated on his brain stem. Though doctors insisted he would eventually recover from the stroke, he continued to experience unexplained anger and embarrassing erectile dysfunction, and he eventually attempted suicide. Recalling his childhood sexual abuse exacerbated matters. Another hemorrhage forced Lemon to endure a risky brain operation to excise the lesion. The pain, confusion, panic and frustration of living a young life saddled with a possibly lethal medical crisis thrusted him into a depressive state pacified only with copious amounts of alcohol, drugs and denial. It was a long road back to some semblance of normalcy, but the author finally emerged healthier and relatively happy—thanks, in part, to his valiant single mother (“Ma”), a hilariously memorable artist who helped rehabilitate her son with unflagging love and much-needed stability. Lemon’s writing is saturated with beautifully descriptive passages, and the narrative flows with an unrushed, conversational cadence. His prose shimmers in places readers will least expect: the running track at the break of dawn, the view from the floor of his dorm room after he collapses (“The world whirls when I crack open. Bookshelf, poster board, the windows wink their eyes…Every light pulses yelloworange and brilliant, and the TV is a blue splash”), a doctor’s clinical, measured movements, and breathlessly divulging the crushing diagnosis to his family (“the truth drops through me like a rain of nails”).

Empathetic, vividly rendered and impossible to put down.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4165-5023-5
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2009


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