History of a Happy Family
History of a Happy Family: A Tale
History of a Happy Family is the story of the damage the West and its mythology does to the people in it. I grew up in the country described in History a combination of rocky scabland farms and desert brush, bisected by a series of reservoirs and dams harnessing what once was the Columbia River. The people here, in one way or another, are trapped between the traditional mythology that has always been associated with the West and looming knowledge that, like the river, the place that fostered that myth has been altered by their own doing. My great-grandfather was an Indian scout and among the first few settlers of this country. He was a bit of a legend until he murdered my grandfather, his son in-law, and made my grandmother a widow. She ran a one-room schoolhouse and the family ranch until she retired in the mid-Sixties and moved into town, which by then was a good deal wilder than the ranch country.
History of a Happy Family is both a reflection of a myth violent enough to incite such acts and mythic in itself. The events often have strange sort of harmony that a more realistic book would steer clear of. The book covers almost eighty years. There are four main characters. The first is Matt Lawson who is thrust into the unfamiliar role of manhood too early. He is befuddled by the transition and remains so much of the book. He avoids others out of fear and discomfort, rather than the traditional taciturn reticence one finds in popular movies. In Lawson’s life (and the lives of most in this place) silence is clearly a demon rather than a boon.
The book also follows Wendy, a peculiar girl a few years younger than Matt, whom he encounters off and on throughout the book in failed attempts to reconcile his distance with a human connection, until near the end when they have both endured more than their share of hardships.
Linda Jefferson is a school teacher, who has relationships with both Wendy and Matt, and as a result, is slowly going mad and Lucky is her son who is intertwined with both Matt and Wendy in a tragi-comic manner.
The book ends in absolution for some and torment for others, but in the end it is the history of a happy family.
By the fall of a fortnight, though, that weight had grown heavy as lead. She didn’t even approach the door mornings, weary of her own expectations. It had been so long, she realized, anything short of he himself standing there would be a disappointment. She began to sleep on the bench below the front windowsill and finally took up a blanket and a pillow and pitched her camp on the porch swing. Children darted in and out of the house glows like birds. Dark, Wendy heard a mother call and then another. Like dogs, soon the whole pack was baying. An hour past, most of the lights had slipped out. Once in a while a couple spooning on a porch would split the quiet with a laugh, but the sound sucked back inside them so suddenly, the night seemed to stitch it over like something she’d dreamt.
Often a breeze would press at the swing and squawk the chains, waking her, and she would search for stars and planets emerging over the horizon of buildings. She felt she was floating on one great river while staring into another, the one he sailed each night. When Hawk Creek met the Columbia, it lost itself, water against water for a moment, then water with water, then just water. She wondered where her borders would disappear into his.