Healing of Howard
by Jeb Stewart Harrison
Publisher: Create Space (August 16, 2016)
Category: Literary Fiction; Contemporary
Fiction; Family Saga
Tour Date: January & February, 2017
Available in: Print & ebook, 336 Pages
"This is your last chance to do something right, son.
Don't screw it up."
these words ringing in his 60-year old ears, Howard Brown, Jr., sets out from
Kentfield, California to find his wayward and possibly psychotic sister and
return her to their dying father's bedside. The search leads him to the Brown
family's ancestral home near St. Francisville, Louisiana, where his Southern
cousins have apparently conspired with his sister to bilk him out his
inherited, potentially oil-rich property. At the same time, he discovers that a
long dormant birthmark in his sternum is a portal to the land of the dead. His
consciousness is suddenly inundated with terrifying visitations from a rogue's
gallery of twisted ancestors, until he fears that he is just as crazy as his
sister and everybody else in their labyrinthine family. Wounded to his core,
doped up and strung out, Howard discovers that his salvation is beating loud
and clear within his own weary heart, and that all he has to do is listen.
Healing of Howard Brown is a capacious and energetic narrative of
self-discovery, delivered with an authentic voice that is supple, smart,
somber, witty, ironic, self-revealing, self-doubting, and wonderfully lyrical.
Themes of family, trust and responsibility to others, the national as well as
personal past, and the life of the spirit resound throughout, with a cultural
resonance involving class and race, the North and the South, the definition of
masculine identity, and, centrally, the nature of mature love in a multitude of
relationships-husband-wife, brother-sister, father-son- in the face of a
debilitating mental illness that runs like a poison vein through the family
for Healing of Howard Brown by Jeb Stewart Harrison
"If you enjoy beautiful prose, complex themes of family and
race, and a refreshingly original narrator, this book is for you. Harrison is
among the select few contemporary fiction writers who still write for serious
readers." - Jim Heynen, author, best known for The One
Room Schoolhouse , The Boys' House, You Know What
is Right , The Man Who Kept Cigars in His Cap and
“This book starts off with a bang and keeps on going. Howard is a
character with a specific voice and story. I'm sure you'll be provoked and
entertained.”- Jessica Barksdale Inclan, author of The Believe
Trilogy, The Being Trilogy, and many more.
“Jeb Stewart Harrison is an original writer and a multitalented
creative person. I enjoy his unique and often innovative narrative structure.
His books are thoughtfully written and a pleasure to read and savor. While you
turn future pages in your life reread this inspiring story. As time goes
by—(when you’re older and hopefully ‘wiser’) you’ll feel new motivation with
each visit into Howard’s inimitable life.”- Paul C. Steffy, author, The
Good Soldier—based on his Infantry year in Vietnam.
“An ambitious story that navigates themes of family, redemption
and even metaphysics, in a thought-provoking, humorous way. Harrison clearly
has a deep affection for Howard and the myriad of colorful folk who make up his
complex, often crazy life. A book any reader will continue thinking about long
after putting it down.”- NW Bookman, Amazon Reviewer
The buzzing in my birthmark – the strange hole in the center of my sternum that, by the time I turned 60, was a discolored depression about the size of a thumbtack – started that night. I was lying on my back in bed, still bundled up in my Velcro rig and all abuzz with narcotics, when I got the feeling that someone had attached an electrical stim node to the hole in my chest and turned the juice up to ten. The label that had been unofficially assigned to my deformity – Chown Hoon Dong – surged into my addled consciousness, and I was presented with the kind of vivid memory that is usually reserved for dreams.
I was just a baby, probably no more than a year old, and I was being studied intently by the man whom I would recognize later as the proprietor of the local Chinese laundry in Larkspur. He looked like a Chinaman from a children’s storybook: The Five Chinese Brothers or perhaps Ping, the Duck. A silvery mustache like gossamer threads fell from the corners of his leathery lips, tickling my bare chest as he peered through thick spectacles at the hole there. He oohed and ahhed, while he circled my birthmark with a long yellowed fingernail. “Your son,” he finally said, “He is very special.”
My mother, who I somehow knew was tempted to snatch me up from the laundry counter and run, said in a shaky voice: “How so? Does he have some kind of curse?”
The laundry man laughed and bared his tobacco-stained teeth. “In China, the Chown Hoon Dong is great honor.”
“Chow what?” my mother cried.
“Chown Hoon Dong. It is the soul hole. A conduit to the afterlife.”
Lying there in bed, I remembered the feeling of having unique, super-secret powers that were mine and mine alone. It was a feeling that had manifested periodically in dreams throughout my life, and had without fail boosted me out of whatever blue funk I might have been in. But this time it was accompanied with a powerful sense of foreboding, along with the palpable buzzing/tickling/burning sensation on my skin.
Soon enough I learned that the buzzing was, quite literally, a signal, a warning of sorts that either my father had a message for me, or that I was in the presence of ancestral ghosts. At first it was just a voice in my head; the visions didn’t come until later. When I told Sandy about it, not long after the old man’s final exit, she called her “intuitive,” a woman most folks would refer to as a “psychic” (and that I referred to as a “psycho”). After Sandy put me on the phone with her for a few minutes – I was not to speak – she informed me that my dead father had taken up residence in my third chakra, and my third chakra had been wired to my soul hole. Hence the buzzing. Hello? This is Howard. Please leave a message at the beep.
I had heard of chakras and energy healing – hard to avoid in Marin County – but wasn’t aware that the spirits of the recently deceased, unwilling to depart their earthly domain, could hole up in the third chakra, which I pictured to be somewhere near my large colon. The psycho intuitive told me that I had to command my father to leave; cast him out like a demon, without sympathy or compassion for his bodiless state. But what was I supposed to say?
I considered going to a Western doctor about the buzzing in my soul hole, thinking perhaps there was some sort of electrical imbalance that might throw my heart out of whack. But there was something about the psychic’s interpretation that appealed to me, if only because I figured that two could play at this “telephone” game, and here was my chance to set a few things in the family record straight without fear of retribution, before my father left the physical world altogether and I lost contact. It was also an excellent, even if totally lame, rationale for the aberrant behavior that came later.
The problem with this arrangement was that the dead man, as I imagined, could now monitor our execution of his last will and testament. Such documents often abound with various challenges and tests of mettle that must be successfully completed before the treasure is released: precarious rope bridges over rocky chasms and rivers boiling with ferocious piranha and razor-toothed crocodiles; perilous climbs up sheer granite cliffs crawling with rattlers, tarantulas, and scorpions; treacherous expeditions into the burning molten bowels of the earth to battle beasts unknown to man or God – who knows what parents might require in a will to ensure their progeny is worthy of their hard-earned inheritance?
It also meant that I was still on the hook to locate Sisi, since dividing up his estate according to his wishes meant that we, brother and sister, had to actually work together and come to an agreement on a wide variety of gifts, most notably a 100-acre tract in the woods of Laurel Hill, Louisiana, on what was once the Briarwood plantation. Dividing it up, selling it, keeping it – all this could be worked out in due time once my sister had decided to make herself available for such discussions. Trouble was nobody had a clue where she’d gone. And I wasn’t entirely sure I had the will or the energy to go looking for her. She would have to turn up, eventually. Or leave her inheritance to me.
It was an apocryphal phone call, just a week or so after my father’s death, that set our future in motion. Sandy and I had just returned home after collecting our son in Bolinas for an extended visit. Meanwhile Elke, tired of Mr. Road Rage’s daily harassment, took Odo to visit some friends in Nevada City. When we arrived back in Sleepy Hollow, there was a message on the voice mail that, to put it bluntly, took everything I thought was true about my sister and our family, threw it all onto the roulette wheel and with one sweep of a mighty cosmic hand let it spin.