Page 2 of 2 Previous

Continued: Review: A window on recovery from devastating illness

  • Article by: JULIE FOSTER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 3, 2010 - 5:21 PM

In the fall of 1997 Alex Lemon was a healthy, carefree student and baseball star at Macalester College. But during the spring of his freshman year, his happy-go-lucky world melted away following a three-strikes-and-you're out series of events. The star athlete and party guy suffered a stroke followed by two brain hemorrhages.

In his memoir, "Happy," readers are swept along with Lemon on his turbulent two-year ride as he attempts to compensate for his rapidly deteriorating mental and physical health. His numerous misguided efforts at self-medication, through increasingly frenetic drug and alcohol use, are recounted with frightening and unsavory details. Many times during this period he was cruel and uncaring to family members and friends. He drops into a dark tunnel of depression -- a painful circumstance for a young man once known by many on campus only by the name of Happy.

Eventually, he undergoes brain surgery. Six days after the operation he regains consciousness. Less than two weeks after surgery he leaves the hospital. Lemon skillfully captures the harrowing, mundane and emotionally messy qualities of his slow recovery.

"Not being able to read is making me crazy. Words crawl across the page like they're alive, like bugs. They jump. They tick. So I barely open my eyes. Everything feels right there in front of me, but it's all out of reach. It's all a tease. It would be easier if I were blind."

As much as this memoir chronicles Lemon's recovery, it also captures the loving relationship between a man and his mother, the quirky, loud and ever-dependable woman he calls "Ma."

"I start to tumble when the weight moves into my feet but her arms lock against me. Muscles spasm like animals trapped under my skin, but she's right there. I move the walker a few inches, listing and bellyaching, but with Ma's help, I use the walker and my halting legs and take my first step."

Lemon has also written two collections of poetry ("Mosquito" and "Hallelujah Blackout") and he views the world with a poet's eye.

"Happy" is graphically raw and in-your-face; Lemon's dexterity with words forces the reader into gritty latitudes no one would visit voluntarily, and the level of detail will cause some readers to squirm. But "Happy" is an honest voyage into Lemon's keen mind, remarkable spirit and loving heart, and it shouldn't be missed.

Julie Foster is a freelance book reviewer and writer in Sacramento and a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

  • related content

  • British spy a fulcrum between U.S., China

    Saturday January 2, 2010

    The best spy novels (think John le Carré, Alan Furst and Francine Mathews) have plots that balance authenticity with audacity and main characters who are morally compromised agents.

  • 'Summertime' a meditation on self and otherness

    Saturday January 2, 2010

    Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee gathers material for a fictional biography of Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee.

  • Imperfect union

    Saturday January 2, 2010

    The author of "Eat, Pray, Love" settles down and gets married.

  • Fossil fueled

    Saturday January 2, 2010

    Two 19th-century women bond over ground-breaking archeological discoveries.

  • Happy by Alex Lemon

  • Alex Lemon

  • HAPPY

    By: Alex Lemon.

    Publisher: Scribner, 292 pages, $25.

    Review: Alex Lemon's eye for detail and ability with words create a graphic and compelling memoir about illness, recovery and a mother's love.

    Events: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Magers & Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., and 7 p.m. Friday, Micawber's Bookstore, 2238 Carter Av., St. Paul.

    Read: Q&A with Alex Lemon in Monday's Variety section.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close