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Harmony    by Joanna Goodman order for
by Joanna Goodman
Order:  USA  Can
New American Library, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Lisa Respers France

'A child's pain is unbearable to withstand, no matter what the affliction.' New mother Anne Mahroum is talking about her newborn son Evan, but she could easily be referring to herself. Anne is a woman dealing with the realities of her life, devastated by her son's birth defect and increasingly curious about her childhood and the father her mother whisked her away from.

While on the surface, it would appear that Anne has a very good life, she is still left yearning and feeling empty. Married to Elie, a handsome, well to do Lebanese man who is independently wealthy thanks to his family's import business and who glories in buying and selling rare coins, Anne still finds herself fantasizing about other men, and develops a flirtation with a fellow member of a parental support group for children with club feet. Evan's club feet serve as a foil for the perfection Anne is seeking and are also a symbol of the imperfection evident in human life. Anne just wants her son to be normal, all the while learning that such a term is relative.

Anne's quest for perfection is mirrored in her husband's search for a hard to find coin and the couple grapples with the difficulties of marriage that just about any married person will recognize. The miscommunication, the misunderstood motives and the incorrect belief that another human being can carry the crushing weight of bringing their spouse complete happiness.

Watching Anne grapple with motherhood and marriage would be enough to satisfy any reader, but Goodman adds another layer with the addition of Anne's mother Jean, a masseuse who is harboring a secret that could well be the string that causes Anne to completely unravel. The scenes between the two are fraught with the kind of beauty and tension that can only occur between an adult daughter and her mother.

Goodman perfectly captures the angst and uncertainty that can be new motherhood while also honestly portraying how uncertain, unpredictable and messy life can be. Harmony refers to the British Columbia commune that Anne and Jean flee when Anne is a child, but it also refers to that delicate balance of contentment, peace and love that we all crave. Harmony is also what Goodman has achieved in this rich and lyrical novel.

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