Book Review: Jessica Harman

Because the Bright World Weeps (Four-Forty-Four Press, 2013) – novella
By Jessica Harman​
[W.o.W. Review by Mignon Ariel King]

Ruby is a schizophrenic woman with an internal conflict — trying to determine whether or not she is and can remain a good-hearted person. She sees the angelic on Earth and is deeply compassionate toward people around her, especially younger women, even while struggling with her mental health, the end of a romance, and the darkness of the human condition as well as its brightness. The language of the narrative is remarkable, imaginative and direct at once (which is no surprise to readers familiar with Harman’s poetry).

Ruby cannot talk to her friend Jed about “complexity in art, philosophy, my fear of everything, waterfalls.” But she can talk about angels and battling her “evil” impulses in pursuit of goodness. The simple pleasures of talking about nothing much with a friend at Starbucks help Ruby stay away from “crashing and going inward.” Later, just thinking about these smaller happy times helps her feel better without having to cling to a romantic relationship or the belief that love fixes everything.

At 38, Ruby attaches powers to objects as might a young girl. Her garage-sale find Virgin Mary pillow, not chosen for religious reasons but from belief that the idol is Good. “And you need Good influences in your life. She also sits in Harvard Square parks reading poetry, regardless of Massachusetts weather. Connecting to poetry saves her from ” The Pit” of depression. Ruby explains to her 21-year-old roommate, “You’re a being of light.[…] It’s a great responsibility.”

Explaining the Dilemma (in Chapter 7), Ruby says that she feels 80% good, but “[t]here will be those devilish moments when you wish the guy on the bus with heavy grocery bags would trip and fall.” Ha! Such unexpected humorous moments are woven into what might have been one of those pseudo-deep modern narratives. Harman keeps the reader moving through fifteen chapters by juggling the good and the bad in each of us, pinpointing this internal balancing act in stright-forward yet never dull prose.

Ruby admits, “I had just expected life to be better after high school, as if the light on the water [of the Charles River] would yield all its beauty to me then because I was an adult and had somehow earned it.” Didn’t we all, at least a little bit? Brava to Jessica Harman for describing and analyzing emotionally complex and confused beliefs in clear, poetic prose.

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