The reader is introduced to Howard Kapostash as he assumes responsibility of looking after nine-year old Ryan, son of his ex-girlfriend Sylvia who is being sent away against her will by her sister into a drug rehab program for an undetermined length of time. The sister takes care of the cat and Howard takes care of the boy who is not his son.
Howard can’t communicate due to a severe head injury that occurred sixteen days into his tour of Vietnam. He returns home to his mother and father a broken young man who can’t communicate and is unwilling to try even though the mere fact that he survived such an injury is considered a miracle.
The book is told from Howard’s narrative and it’s an amazing story that unfolds to the reader because you learn in flashbacks why Howard never really moved forward when he returned from the war and how he lived in a self-imposed solitary existence with his parents until each of them passed away thus forcing Howard to take on borders in his parent’s house (now his home) to help pay the bills. There’s a young Vietnamese-American woman named Laurel who makes gourmet soups for a living and two housepainters named Nit and Nat (so named because Howard finds bother irritating and never makes an effort to learn their real names).
The sheer beauty of this book is the way Howard and Ryan learn to interact with one another and how the introduction of this boy completely changes the dynamic of all the tenants living in Howard’s house.
But the frustration of the book is the reader clearly sees how manipulative and self-centered Sylvia is from the first pages of the story. We can’t imagine how such a good man like Howard could still be carrying a torch for this woman who continually insults him and takes advantage of his feelings to get him to do things for her that she doesn’t deserve—especially since she entrusts the care of her son to him and the care of her cat to her sister.
The big epiphany for me in reading this novel was how it felt to be unable to express myself just like Howard throughout the story. I wanted to reach through the pages and shout to Howard, “Can’t you see that this can only end badly? She’s going to break your heart! She is not the person you fell in love with at sixteen. She’s only using you. Be careful!”
The satisfaction of completing The Ha-Ha is that you survive the journey right alongside Howard. The author Dave King does an impressive job at showing the dark side of Howard as he learns to deal with just what his injury has cost him in both his present life and the life he could have had were it not for being sent to Vietnam.
In the end, this book is about relationships. It’s about how one person can come into your life and completely change the way you exist. It’s a love story between a fatherless boy and the man that could have been such a good father to him had things been different all those years ago. It’s a story about a man finally waking up to his life and learning that there are always possibilities around the corner if you’re looking for them.
I highly recommend reading The Ha-Ha. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in 2005 and you’ll walk away feeling a new appreciation of just how important words can be—in any form.