André Gide once warned writers that “there is nothing more dangerous than your own family, your own room, your own past… you must leave them.” In his memoir Human Happiness (Thomas Allen), Brian Fawcett ignores this advice and gives us a story of family life, love, strife, multiple dysfunction and, yes, happiness.
We’re in Prince George, in the middle of British Columbia, in the post–World War II “Golden Age” of North American prosperity and hope, in a time when transnational corporate greed has not yet bulldozed regional lives and local economies into the marketized present. Hartley and Rita Fawcett achieve “the Good Life,” a condition not available to post-war boomers and Xers, who might lead “a, but never the Good Life.” The two raise a family, create “a Business Empire” (as Hartley, a self-made man of his time who favours speaking in capital letters, puts it) and, even as globalized capital tightens its grip on local matters and pressures the marital and home front, the family holds on to happiness.
Human Happiness is the most powerful BC memoir I’ve read. I learned that true human happiness is “glimpsed in flight,” and requires “an ability to live with ambiguity and tolerate a certain degree of physical humour,” that memory and history, a text and its context, can be expertly linked by an honest story, and that such a story is achieved when the writing is accurate and empathetic, and not compromised by sentimental “personal memory” foolishnesses, Gidean terror or high-minded analysis. The recounting in Fawcett’s book is true and intelligent, heartfelt and critical, balanced and beneficent in the face of an often painful tempestuous reality spiked with sparkling beauty.
I was happy while reading Human Happiness and I plan to give it to all my siblings for Christmas.