Pros: unique premise, interesting and insightful viewpoint
Cons: not very likable protagonist, swearing for some
A ha-ha is a boundary wall concealed in a ditch so that it does not intrude upon the view.
Harold Kapostash wanted one thing out of life, that being his high school sweetheart, Sylvia. Before he could continue with that future goal, he had to serve a year in Vietnam. He would make it just two short weeks before a combination of being high and a land mine would send him into months of rehab and then home.
Physically, Harold was lucky. He had a large scar on his head, and he walked with a limp. Thats far better than how one of the other guys fared, though. It was the fall onto his head that caused Harolds major problems. His mental capacity (i.e. intelligence level) was not affected, but his ability to speak, read and write was. Harold was left with no way to communicate with the world outside of gestures--making it appear to others as though he wasnt all there.
Slowly, those who attempted to support him upon his initial return couldnt handle it any more than he could himself. His father turned to alcohol, his girlfriend to other men, and Harold formed a mental barrier around himself to protect against further anguish. Once his parents passed away, Sylvia was the only person who knew Harold for what he was before the war; therefore, he clung to her, and she used him in return. Whenever she needed something fixed, there was good old Harold waiting in the wings.
Only this time, what she needed was for someone to take care of her nine-year-old son, Ryan, while she was in forced rehab. Harolds routine life would be turned upside down by the presence of this child who was as introverted and closed off to human contact as himself. Harolds housemates enveloped Ryan into their fold immediately and began to break through his defenses, making him feel more comfortable. Even Harold began to feel the atmospheric change. His home actually felt brighter and more full of life, and the people inside like a motley little family.
But just as they all got used to things, and emotional barriers were falling, Sylvias release became imminent. What would happen to Harolds new existence when Ryan left his home? What about the relationship that they had tentatively formed? The thought of losing Ryan and his own new-found hold on life was enough to ignite the rage that had lain dormant inside of Harold for so long. His inability to cope rose to the surface once again, and the results could be disastrous.
A fiction account of a Vietnam vets struggles is not uncommon, but Dave King makes this one special. He takes away the protagonists ability to communicate normally and then throws in a child who is equally uncommunicative in his own way.
What makes the relationship between these two work is their unexpected similarities. They both love a woman who is barely capable of looking beyond herself. They both feel like outsiders to the world around them and carry an unreleased rage. Most importantly, as the title implies, they have each formed an invisible protective barrier around themselves. Essentially, they understand each other and hold the key to one anothers barrier breakdown.
Another unique aspect is that the story is told in the first person from Harolds point on view, thus giving the reader a rare and enlightening look into his mind. We see things no one else ever will because he cannot express them. Our advantage is the ability to be sensitive where others are not; however, there are still moments when Harolds struggles lead him to do things we cannot understand. Things we will loathe him for. He is not particularly likable, but I suppose it would be difficult to lead a cheery, optimistic life in his case. It breeds a sort of like/hate relationship between reader and protagonist.
Sensitive readers will want to take note that there is harsh language and some sexual content, but one must remember the emotionally explosive position Harold finds himself in. As frustrating as life must be for him, hes bound to swear now and again.
There are supporting characters that round out Harolds life. His employer, Sister Amity; his housemates Laurel, Steven and Harrison (or Nit and Nat as Harold calls them). And, of course, Sylvia. While they do add some substance to his everyday life, it is Ryan who begins to make Harolds existence worthwhile. The only other thing that comes close to equaling Ryan in importance is the ha-ha at the convent where Harold does yard work. He is obsessed with riding the lawnmower along the edge. He likes the sensation it gives him of floating through the air . . . the last feeling he had 30 years earlier before his realized his life was changed forever.
The Ha-Ha is not a suspenseful novel, and its certainly not fast-paced. Its just slow, easy read that is interesting and insightful in both substance and presentation.
~The written word provides a doorway into new worlds. Enter freely and savor the moments.~
~Me ~ Circa 2003~