Happy: A Memoir

by Alex Lemon

What’s wrong with being popular? Nothing, of course,
especially if you’re a hard-partying, big-loving college
student with their entire life ahead of them --- like Alex Lemon
was. Coming to Macalester College, Alex was primed to be the star
catcher on the baseball team. Armed with smarts and good looks, he
was a girl magnet and never had any trouble connecting with friends
and teachers alike. Clearly, college was going to be the ride of
his life. His nickname, quite appropriately, was Happy.

And then, in the spring of 1997, he had his first stroke. Yes, a
stroke. A knock-down, drag-out fight with deteriorating health led
him straight to the arms of drinking and drugs, trying to find an
escape from the unpredictable and crazy horror his body and brain
had decided to put him through. Happy used his charming and
ecstatic nature to hide what was really going on --- but his
behavior turned ever more erratic and self-destructive as two more
brain bleeds did a number on his physical health. Depression set
in, but his wise and wondrous mom, with her carefree Irish ways,
came to the rescue and helped save Happy from himself…and
further unhappiness or the end to it all.

There is a lot written about parents taking care of their
offspring as babies, toddlers and young schoolchildren. But what
happens when those same kids are supposed to be old enough to go
out into the world and make their own way because all the parental
guidance has been passed on to them already? If your child is in
danger, you are never too old to come to their aid, and
“Ma,” as Happy calls his mother, rises swiftly to the
occasion and is at his side the whole time, guiding him through
pain and anguish and back again to happy as he experiences the full
affront of his brain’s assault on his senses, memory, and
emotional and physical health. Ma emerges as the real hero of this
raucous book.

Told in a crazy-fast first person voice, Lemon swings us around
and around until the traumatic events of his life give us a little
vertigo --- it’s hard to feel like you can stand up straight
after reading this curvy, energetic story. HAPPY reminds me of the
scene in Goodfellas where Ray Liotta is being chased by
the helicopter --- your heart rate races, your mind is trying hard
to keep up, and your knees feel like they can’t hold you up
anymore. It is not rare that a decent writer can take you places
that affect you both physically and mentally, but HAPPY takes you
on a journey that may require a seat belt, Pepto-Bismol and your
very own gratitude journal to get through it.

If it was a movie, this book would be rated R for its
no-holds-barred blood, guts and horror approach to honest
storytelling. Read at your own risk! HAPPY is not for the faint of
heart or moral code.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 22, 2011

Happy: A Memoir
by Alex Lemon

  • Publication Date: December 29, 2009
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 1416550232
  • ISBN-13: 9781416550235