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Coming September 12, 2023 with Vine Leaves Press
"I cannot think of a writer more naturally suited to tell this timely and essential story, not just of her own personal grief, but of society’s fearful response to calamity and all that that entails.”
—Andre Dubus III, author of Such Kindness and Townie
In the mid 1980s, Canada’s worst public health disaster was unfolding. Catastrophic mismanagement of the country’s blood supply allowed contaminated blood to be knowingly distributed nationwide, infecting close to two thousand Canadians with HIV. Among them was Melanie Brooks’s surgeon father who, after receiving a blood transfusion during open-heart surgery in 1985, learned he was HIV positive.
At a time when HIV/AIDS was widely misunderstood and public perception was shaped by fear, prejudice, and homophobia, victims of the disease faced ostracism and persecution. Afraid of this stigma and wanting to protect his family, Melanie’s father decided his illness would be a secret. A secret they’d all have to keep. They did not know that her father would live past that first year, but he did. And for ten years before his death in 1995, from the time she was thirteen until she was twenty-three, Melanie’s family lived in the shadow of AIDS. She carried the weight of the uncertain trajectory of her father’s health and the heartbreaking anticipation of impending loss silently and alone. It became a way of life.
A Hard Silence is an intimate glimpse into Melanie’s memories of coping with the tragedy of her father’s illness and enduring the loneliness and isolation of not being able to speak. With candor and vulnerability, Melanie opens her grief wounds and brings her reader inside her journey, twenty years after her father died, to finally understand the consequences of her family’s silence, to interrogate the roots of stigma and discrimination responsible for the ongoing secret-keeping, and to show how she’s now learned to be authentic.
Praise for A Hard Silence
“Melanie Brooks is that rare writer who can delve as deeply into the world of ideas as she can the pitted terrain of the human heart. She brings these formidable gifts to her moving and important memoir, A Hard Silence, the tale of her doctor father who in 1985 was infected with the AIDS virus during a blood transfusion. But this is not simply the story of a daughter’s premature loss of her beloved father, for this was AIDS during the 1980’s, a time when the disease was shrouded in a dark mystery that brought out fear and bigotry, homophobia and the ultimate persecution of this ravaging disease’s victims, including Brooks’ surgeon father who up until his death ten years after his diagnosis kept his condition a secret, one his family had to keep as well. I cannot think of a writer more naturally suited to tell this timely and essential story, not just of her own personal grief, but of society’s fearful response to calamity and all that that entails.”
—André Dubus III, author of Such Kindness and Townie
"At the heart of this brilliantly written memoir is the family secret that Melanie Brooks kept for ten years, from the time she was thirteen until the death of her father in 1995 from AIDS. She describes the isolation affecting her family as they kept this secret, the impossibility of sharing fear and grief during a time very like our own, a time of deep division and rampant prejudice. Written after twenty years of struggle and reflection, Melanie Brooks ability to share with great clarity A Hard Silence, fills me with a sense of urgency, gratitude, and awe."
—Abigail Thomas, author of Still Life at Eighty: The Next Interesting Thing and A Three Dog Life
"Through beautifully crafted, gripping storytelling, Melanie Brooks has delved into the personal childhood pain and grief of an epidemic too often relegated to the past. And she has victoriously emerged from the depths of the unspoken with an elixir for loss, grief, and trauma: Voice.
No matter what our particular stories hold, A Hard Silence is a book with a universal message of love, and the courage every single one of us needs to navigate our way to personal, familial, and communal healing."
—Michael Patrick MacDonald, author of All Souls: A Family Story from Southie
"A vivid and thoughtful exploration of a daughter’s grief for her father, and a family’s unwanted place in history, A HARD SILENCE movingly depicts the long toll of stigma and the healing power of words."
—Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body:
A Murder & A Memoir
"Melanie Brooks's powerful memoir evokes the isolation her family felt after her father, a prominent Canadian surgeon, was infected by tainted blood during his own emergency surgery. Those of us whose family members were contaminated by HIV/AIDS around the same time shared her feelings, the agony of family secrecy and the fear of stigmatization. A Hard Silence is also a story of a crisis of faith brought about by the inadequate response of religious leaders who should have been counted on to provide emotional support during a extremely difficult time for her family."
—Vic Parsons, author of Bad Blood: The Unspeakable Truth
“A profound and riveting journey through shame and grief, A Hard Silence is, quite simply, unforgettable.”
—Monica Wood, author of The One-in-a-Million Boy, When We Were the Kennedys, Ernie’s Ark, and Any Bitter Thing
"Like all narrators you trust, Melanie Brooks earned her story the hard way. When HIV struck her surgeon father through medical error, she suffered the transfusion of fear and disorientation sprung by his diagnosis in the depths of the AIDS crisis. How she fought her way through the subsequent labyrinth of judgment, shunning, loss of faith, and exile within her own community forms her journey. To struggle back from the brink, she must construct a new story at the nexus of family, religion, medicine, and the injured soul. This book offers insights into a tough passage in our history, and promises a new resource for the growing field of narrative medicine by recounting the physical and spiritual dimensions of medical crisis in first person."
—Kim Stafford, author of Singer Come from Afar
"In this gripping, lovingly recounted memoir, Melanie Brooks dares tell her family secrets. For a time, they are her wounds that refuse to heal. Her ever-present shame. But why, Brooks asks with refreshing candor, do we insist on holding our grief so close? Why must we keep telling our hard stories over and over? Brooks shows us through her incisive, deeply nuanced questions, that often it’s in the re-telling that we can finally put our grief down and be freed."
—Susan Conley, author of Landslide
“'My father died senselessly and way too soon.' To face up to that sentence, to her family’s shame and silence about her father’s AIDS-related death, to admit sadness and grief as part of life, and to find her own voice amid that oppressive silence is Melanie Brooks’s daunting task in A Hard Silence. She succeeds movingly and memorably. This is a careful book, showing great precision in the writing but also careful in its attentiveness to how the culture of a family works—for better and for worse. Her love for her father and for those close to her is on every page but so—and this is the book’s particular genius—is the entangling pain of complicity, the bowing to social pressures and fears that surrounded AIDS. In giving voice to her ordeal, Melanie Brooks illuminates not only a historical page but an existential one."
—Baron Wormser, author of The Road Washes Out in Spring: A Poet's Memoir of Living Off the Grid
"Melanie Brooks's tender narrative of living with the secret of her father’s AIDS diagnosis during the epidemic’s crisis era echoes loudly today. This beautifully rendered memoir asks important questions about the complexities of loss and grief, the roots of stigma and shame, and the courage necessary to endure that resonate in this new and unfortunate age of social exclusion.”
—Richard Blanco, author of The Prince of los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood
"Melanie Brooks’ tender and thought-provoking exploration of her father’s death and her own need to break the silence surrounding his illness gives each of us permission to speak about the ache of deepest grief. In A Hard Silence, she proves that her heart is more than fine."
—Jessica Handler, author of Invisible Sisters, Braving the Fire, and
The Magnetic Girl
"Melanie Brooks writes with both daring and restraint about learning the language of loss and breaking the silence she grew up in during the 1980s and 1990s HIV/AIDS crisis. She sheds light on the harm caused by her own and her family’s unwillingness to admit and share their grief and sorrow, but along with the investigation of how a desire for dignity can cut off vital communication, she captures the moments of beauty, joy, and wit: the strawberry pie that her father relishes, a delicate plate that is broken but expertly glued back together, and the myriad gestures of love that broke through the painful silence."
—Kyoko Mori, author of Yarn: Remembering the Way Home
"With a documentarian’s focus and the emotional armor necessary for re-entering a closely held decade-long family secret, Melanie Brooks takes us to fresh air found past that suffocating veil. Exquisitely written with big bravery and big heart, A Hard Silence helped the author process her trauma, but also is a shining reminder to the rest of us that writing can help us through and beyond."
—Suzanne Strempek Shea, author of Songs from a Lead-Lined Room
Melanie Brooks delivers an indelible portrait of love and loss in this brave exploration of the grief that was her constant companion after the death of her beloved father from AIDS, at a time when the deadly disease forced people to hide that condition or face rejection or even violence. Brooks’ intrepid probe into piercing the heart of her own deeply buried sorrow is a beacon for all those who grieve.
—Marianne Leone, author of Jesse: A Mother's Story and Ma Speaks Up
"The strength required of Brooks to endure the cruel fate of her father’s illness could have been surpassed only by what she summoned to write this superb, heartfelt memoir. With mesmerizingly beautiful prose, A Hard Silence is a case study in grief and survival, of the power of family bonds, of the ways in which we are both sustained and failed by our faiths and each other. I could not put it down."
—Jerald Walker, author of Street Shadows and The World in Flames
"When Melanie Brooks’ father is dying from HIV, contracted through a blood transfusion, he can’t always find the words to express his appointment with mortality. Fortunately, his daughter can. Loss is hard enough to articulate without being saddled with the freight of a global pandemic, societal knee-jerk reactions, and lack of healthcare choices. In this important and profound narrative, Brooks chronicles what gets us all through times of grief: love, empathy, even vulnerability. And, most importantly, nurturing a sense of wholeness, even as it slips from us."
—Sue William Silverman, author of How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences
“A Hard Silence is a stunning memoir about so many things: the bond of love between a father and a daughter; the fearful cultural taboos that rob us of the grief we deserve; the way that loss affects each member of a family in its own specific and often alienating ways. Melanie Brooks tells the story of her father’s life and death with a deep desire to clear space for healing—no matter how long it takes. Her promise to a reader is profound and simple: that it’s never too late to reclaim one’s pain; it’s never too late to journey back into the past and return to the experiences that we—and our families, our communities, our loved ones—were unable, or unwilling, or unequipped to process. At its core, this searing memoir is a testament to the complex truth that our entitlement to grief is about so much more than loss and pain. Grief, for Brooks, is an act of memory.”
—Jaed Coffin, author of Roughhouse Friday
"Some stories are so necessary, some books have been missing so long, that their absence distorts reality. Melanie Brooks has labored mightily to bring us this remedy, this clarity, as she uncovers and comes to terms with the devastating effects of secrecy on her family and her own girlhood. An emotionally powerful account of her family's encounter with the stigma surrounding AIDS, A Hard Silence stands as an indictment of attitudes that add shame to suffering, that make struggling families hide, consigning their stories to silence. With artistry and courage, Brooks has turned that silence into this restorative, revelatory, and beautiful book."
— Richard Hoffman author of Half the House and Love & Fury
"In A Hard Silence, Melanie Brooks brings readers into the very center of her family’s painful secret: her father, a respected surgeon, devoted family man, and devout and loving Christian, has contracted HIV/AIDS through a blood transfusion during the height of the 1980s AIDS epidemic. Rather than deal with the shame and stigma they would surely face, her family chooses silence, and Brooks is forced to keep her father’s secret for years, where it becomes the thread that simultaneously stitches the family together and pulls it completely apart.
With candor and grace, Brooks writes of her journey to piece together a girlhood indelibly marred by the certainty of her father’s approaching death. At parts moving, enraging, and absolutely heart-wrenching, A Hard Silence is an artful meditation on grief and love, on family and faith, on a father taken too soon. This book is a gift."
—Timothy J. Hillegonds, author of The Distance Between