Audiobook Review: What Becomes of the Brokenhearted by E. Lynn Harris

June 24, 2024

E. Lynn Harris writes the memoir of his life–from his childhood in Arkansas as a closeted gay boy through his struggling days as a self-published author to his rise as a New York Times bestselling author. In What Becomes of the Brokenhearted, E. Lynn Harris shares an extraordinary life touched by loneliness and depression, but more important, he reveals the triumphant life of a small-town dreamer who was able through writing to make his dreams–and more–come true (via Libro.fm).

I was trying to remember how I came across What Becomes of the Brokenhearted by E. Lynn Harris, but I can’t remember. I believe I was looking into books I remembered reading and loving when I was young, one of which (of course) was Invisible Life. In the end, I guess it doesn’t matter how I found his memoir, but I’m glad that I did.

Harris starts his memoir with a description of a failed suicide attempt and uses this as a springboard to talk about his struggles with depression and how those struggles relate to his search for love–love from his family, friends, romantic partners, and himself. He doesn’t shy away from talking about how deeply depressed he was at various points in his life, and some of the circumstances that exacerbated his depression. The memoir spans from his early childhood up to the publication of Invisible Life, starting with an incident where he got in trouble for twirling like his sisters to show off a beautiful coat he was proud to wear. This, I believe, is the first time he felt like who he was as a person was deemed wrong or not enough, a feeling that nagged him throughout his life, especially as he came to terms with his sexuality.

Though this memoir deals with clinical depression and abuse he faced at various times in his life–sometimes physical–I do have to say that I did not find this maudlin at all. The abuse is not described in detail, though Harris does sit with the confusion and feelings in the aftermath. More importantly, there is a lot joyful about his life, and he celebrates those moments as much, if not more, than he does the parts of his life that causes him pain.

If anything, I would recommend this book as a strong testament to the power of faith. Although Harris struggles to know who he is (and I know this sounds like a contradiction, but) he knows who he is and leans on that knowledge to get him through. Even when Harris was at his lowest, he still believed that his life could and probably did have meaning (yes, even during his suicide attempt), which is part of what allowed him to seek help for his depression and eventually led to him becoming a writer.

A lot of young (and some older, honestly) people, especially the ones I work with, don’t truly understand what it meant to be a gay person before the turn of the century and why they can’t joke with older members of their families who have recently come out of the closet. I try to explain to them that, yes, being gay is something society is largely okay with now, but that it wasn’t that way as recently as when I was in high school. (Which is not recent to them, but you know what I mean.) The way sexuality was dealt with when I was in high school is completely foreign to many of my students, especially now that I teach in a big city. A book like this would go long way in showing them why their elders may be so reluctant to talk about those things. It also, of course, gives more context to what it was like to live through the AIDS crisis of the ’80s and ’90s.

I listened to this book, which was confusing at times, only because the book cover says READ BY THE AUTHOR, but I definitely found myself wondering if the way it was being read was the way E. Lynn Harris actually talked, which is a weird thing to think when you’re listening to an audiobook narrated by the author. TURNS OUT, the version I listened to was NOT read by the author but was instead narrated by one Richard Allen. (Goodreads won’t let me do an insert author deal here, so here’s his Goodreads profile.) So, my confusion was warranted since it was indeed read by someone other than the author. (It was also originally a book on tape, so at the end of certain sections, Allen would very helpfully say, “This concludes tape [insert number here].”) But all I want to know is WHY the book cover says it’s read by the author when it most clearly is not. Even if it was a book on tape originally, that’s still false advertising! So, yeah, I have a big problem with that.

But I digress.

My only complaint about the book (minus the false advertising of the audiobook, which I will never get over) is that Harris ends it with an epilogue that says he’s in a loving relationship with a man but doesn’t say how they met, fell in love, etc. While it’s nice to know he did find love, given the title of the book, it would have been even nicer to get more info about what made that particular relationship different from the ones he had been in before.

I am still absolutely gutted by Harris’s death (he died of heart disease, so, literally, a broken heart), but I am very happy he left behind this memoir so that readers could get to know the man behind the novels he wrote.

All in all, I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves the author’s work, is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, is an ally, and/or struggles with depression.

*As a Libro.fm and Bookshop associate I earn from qualifying purchases

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