“I have noticed that doing the sensible thing is only a good idea when the decision is quite small. For the life-changing things, you must risk it.”
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a memoir by Jeanette Winterson about a life in search of love. Growing up in a loveless household, as an adult she is incapable of receiving love, possibly feeling she doesn’t deserve it. Adopted at six weeks, she is raised in the Pentecostal church by a woman who lives in the “End Times” and only stays home from church on Thursdays. Her adoptive mother can’t stand to see others happy and as a result, skews Winterson’s perspective on human relationships. About her mother: I never asked her if she loved me. She loved me on those days when she was able to love. I really believe that is the best she could do.
She spends a great deal of her childhood locked out of her own house, sitting on the front porch waiting to be let back in. She is never allowed to have her own key. Other times she is locked in a dark hole where the family stores coal so she often dreams up stories to escape. Her mother does not allow her to read books that are not the bible but at a young age, Jeanette dares to check books out from the library and store them in her mattress. When her mother finds them, she takes them to the backyard and cerimoniously burns them all. From here on out, Winterson begins to memorize text so it can’t be taken from her and she burns her own diaries so they cannot be read or confiscated. It becomes her mission to read the entire English Literature section at the local library from A-Z. My mother didn’t want books falling into my hands. It never occured to her that I fell into the books-that I put myself inside them for safe keeping.
Winterson spends much of the book trying to describe the feeling of being an adopted child. She feels that her history is offset from the beginning as adopted children are not born but rather explode onto the scene with no information about who they are or where they come from before arriving in the arms of adopting parents. At sixteen she leaves home after her mother tries to exorcise her for being gay. She lives in her car, works 11-hour shifts at the market and miraculously makes it into Oxford University. Winterson courageously tells her tale of growing up in search of love. I would say she safely (yet not unscathed) comes into adulthood due to her love for literature, a safe haven of sorts.