The Healing of Howard Brown by Jeb Stewart Harrison is a return to the epic tales of the deep-South. When 60-year-old retired English teacher Howard Brown Jr. revisits his roots in the bayous of Louisiana he is taken on a journey of discovery and given an opportunity to rediscover himself and find out who he is and who is meant to be. As Howard and his wife Sandy wait patiently for his father to die, Howard’s sister Sisi is creating her own unique brand of havoc both within the Californian family but also back in the back woods of Louisiana where the Brown family roots are located. Howard has suffered from chronic pain, all over his body, from numerous problems and has been hopelessly hooked on opioids, to manage it, for a number of years. When his seemingly crazy sister disappears, Howard is forced to return to his roots both to try to find Sisi but also to look at the land his father has left the pair in the bayous. What Howard actually discovers is that he knew so little about his family’s history, his father, his sister and himself. The journey to meet his cousins in St Francisville turns into a real journey of self-discovery for the whole family.
It’s a long time since I’ve read a book of this style – old fashioned contemporary literature, written with a massive dose of “good ole boy” Southern humour, redneck nature, gentlemanly conduct, and self-deprecation. I found The Healing of Howard Brown to be a real refreshing change from the genre driven fashion of the day. Author Jeb Stewart Harrison really got inside the heads of the characters and they were true characters. From Howard Jr. the drug addicted retiree who effectively was just waiting for his father to die and release him from his all-powerful control, presumably so he could then just fade away quietly himself through to the passel of second cousins in Louisiana who were the archetypal good ole boys. Sister Sisi was a fascinating mixture of mental health issues and deviousness but all of the characters contributed to this incredibly dysfunctional family. The writing style was true to the environment and the descriptive language when conveying the miasma that is bayou country was so eloquent, I could also smell the rotting moss and the stagnant water, as the boat pushed through the swamp country channels. This was a fantastic read and although it could be accused of being a little fanciful in places it didn’t shirk from asking the big questions of Howard Brown Jr. and attempting to answer them. I can definitely recommend this read.