“Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?”
Jeanette Winterson is a British born writer who wrote the best-selling and award-winning book “Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit” which is a contemporary story of a woman coming to terms with her sexuality.”Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” is not a sequel but a complementary book that reveals the author’s attempt to come to terms with her childhood and adult life.
Jeanette Winterson was born in 1959 and at 6 weeks old was adopted by a Pentecostal couple in the north of England. Her childhood was a nightmare with her mother handing out a litany of abuses: telling her “the devil led us to the wrong crib, locking her out of the house or in the coal cellar overnight. and depriving her of the one basic requirement of all parents: to love your child unconditionally. What of her father, Mr. Winterson? He stood by helpless in his inability to stand up to Mrs. Winterson and did as he was told, which was to beat Jeanette.
Most children can be beaten or bullied into submission when young but there is a high price to pay for the short-term goal: the child rages inside and learns to hate as the author acknowledges: “It did make me hate them – not all the time – but with the hatred of the helpless: a flaring, subsiding hatred that gradually became the bed of the relationship.” It wasn’t until adulthood that the author realized that “you could like your parents, or that they could love you enough to let you be yourself.”
That Jeanette Winterson grew up to be a gifted author is a testament to resilience and the human spirit. Saddled with memories that often crippled her, Winterson learned to encapsulate the despair, recognize that “they” can’t get her anymore, and realize that choosing life will always give her another chance at love:
I know now, after fifty years, that the finding/losing, forgetting/remembering, leaving/returning never stops. The whole of life is about another chance and while we are alive, till the very end, there is always another chance.
Often times, there is a sentence that jumps out and causes deep reflection. “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” is one of those sentences that was uttered by Mrs. Winterson when 16-year old Jeanette reveals that she is in love with a woman and is happy. Choosing happiness was not a sensible choice “as doing the sensible thing is only a good idea when the decision is quite small. For the life-changing things, you must risk it.” The author took the risk and Mrs. Winterson threw her daughter out of the house paving the way for Jeanette to have a better life, albeit with lots of bumps along the way.
“Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” is a deeply personal reflection on the childhood that shaped the author. This is not a book that “trashes” the parents or the church that played large roles in the young Jeanette’s life. If anything, I often thought of the Stockholm Syndrome (where a person is sympathetic and defends a captor) when reading the passages as the author deftly points out the behaviors, rules, and abuses handed out but also acknowledges she wouldn’t be the person she is if not for Mrs. Winterson or the church where “…the principle remains good” giving people such as the author ..”a deeper, more thoughtful life than would have been possible without the Church.”
Books and the words that make books “saved” Jeanette Winterson. They not only allowed her to flee her life as she lost herself in the pages but also permitted her to come to terms with her own life by writing her own books. Early in “Why Be Happy…”, the author writes:
There are two kinds of writing: the one you write and the one that writes you. The one that writes you is dangerous. You go where you don’t want to go. You look where you don’t want to look.
“Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal” is the one that wrote Jeanette Winterson.
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