What Becomes of the Brokenhearted: A Memoir

By E. Lynn Harris

Doubleday (2003), $22.95

E. Lynn Harris, author of the critically acclaimed "Invisible Life" series of novels about being a black gay man, is widely considered one of the most important African-American writers of both his genre and his generation. Harris' fictions about discovering one's sexuality in the homophobic South while searching for a meaningful relationship have been understood to reflect directly on his own experiences. What Becomes of the Brokenhearted, Harris' ninth book, is the memoir that removes any question marks about his inspiration -- and places an exclamation point at the end of the sentence.

Brokenhearted is the engaging story of Harris' life, from the pain of growing up feeling "different" to the abuse he suffered, physically and mentally, for being unable to fit into a world where homophobia ruled. Harris learned early to hide his pain, and for most of the book he's coming to terms with his sexuality and the loneliness he believes it caused. As in Harris' novels, his voice is masterful here; he has an extraordinary way of reaching the reader and involving him in the story, for better or worse -- as when Harris finds out that his physically abusive father isn't related to him (which left me feeling a maternal need to protect him). Giving us the kind of detailed view of his life that we never get of our own, Harris doesn't stumble over or edit the most revealing parts -- such as a graphic description of his suicide attempt -- as others might have done. I only wish he had said more about the work he put into self-publishing his first book, Invisible Life, which he originally sold from the back of his car. I once heard him tell the story, and found it a fascinating and courageous adventure.

Still, Brokenhearted is well worth reading, and as with Harris' other titles, at the end I was clamoring for more (the book closes with the publication of Invisible Lifeand Harris' acknowledgment of his own clinical depression). Fortunately, the "brokenhearted" Harris is only 47, so there's sure to be more from this extremely visible author in the future.

 
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