Winner of the 2006-7 Rome Prize in Literature
Finalist for Book of the Month Club’s Best Literary Fiction Award and the Quill Foundation’s Best Debut Fiction
Named one of the best books of its year by the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Amazon.com
Howard Kapostash has not spoken in twenty years. Following a largely unblemished childhood, a traumatic brain injury sustained during military service has left him physically scarred and afflicted with aphasia, the inability to read, write or interact verbally in any way. For twenty years, he’s led a life of increased isolation, working a small social service job, living in the house where he grew up and renting out rooms for extra income. With his parents deceased, Howard’s only close relationship is with Sylvia, his high school girlfriend, whom he views as the one person who remembers him as he was.
Now Sylvia’s a single mom with troubles of her own. Entering a drug rehab program for cocaine addiction, she asks Howard to care for her 9-year-old biracial son, and the presence of this nervous, resourceful boy in Howard’s life triggers a series of transformations. With a child’s happiness at stake, communication takes on new urgency, and suddenly a routine designed to minimize human contact feels restrictive, even dangerous. Slowly Howard is forced from his groove, and a makeshift family springs up around him. He finds unforeseen delight in the plainest summer joys—picnics, backyard baseball, even work—and for the eight weeks of Ryan’s stay, Howard’ home is briefly alive. But the changes also open Howard to the risks of loss—and to a rage he’s spent a lifetime suppressing.
Set over the course of a summer, The Ha-Ha describes those eight weeks together, plus the eight weeks following, as Howard reassesses just what the war cost him. It’s a book about disability, race, the loss of the American dream and the value of human connection, told through one vet’s struggle to build a new life.