Book Review of the Memoir, A Heart That Works, by Rob Delaney
I don't often climb into the tub, pull my knees tight around my chest, turn on the shower and let the hot water rain down upon my bare skin as I sob uncontrollably. Not often, but not never. This morning, after finishing A Heart That Works, it became one of those rare days.
I've had the pleasure of messing around on Twitter with Rob Delaney a few times over the years, as his absurd, pungent humor is infectious. His honest, odd, silly, acidic, and ridiculous comedic takes are hard to look away from, and his self-deprecating style is delicious. He's been something of a behemoth on Twitter, at least in the comedic realm, for years, and I've relished any/all interactions with him, though he’s probably relished none (I can’t stop won’t stop with the shirtless, pizza-remnants-pic, Rob. I’m sorry ☹). I know he's a recovering addict, that he loves ham, loves to read, enjoys Sludge metal, as do I, along with great books, and I also know that he tragically lost his young son to a brain tumor a few years back. What I didn't know is how masterfully, and inexplicably, Rob is able to feel. How deeply human, loving, and kind he is. I also didn't know that he's lived what I'd categorize as the greatest love story of all time with his wife, Leah. They are the couple that others don't simply envy because they've lasted so long and are sweet to one another more than the next, but the couple people fear because of what they've endured and yet still feel/act this way. They're the couple that illuminates our relationships and forces us to reconcile what love really is and how honest and true our bonds may (or may not), be. They are Nick and Nora from The Thin Man, gingerly rolled in young Montague and Capulet, spritzed with Henry and Clare from The Time Traveler's Wife. Little Henry lived his too-short life far happier, and more deeply cared for, because of their formidable, resplendent bond.
There’s a part in A Heart That Works where Rob needs to change Henry’s diaper and, because of Henry's recent radiation treatments, he’s advised that he needs to wear gloves. Rob refuses, and I fucking love that. What possible infliction could come his way worse than what he’d been enduring with the evisceration of beautiful little Henry? He gets his hands in there, deep in the shit of ugly, messy life, and gets it done. A Heart That Works is a book that destroys part of you while simultaneously revitalizing something you didn't know you possessed. I immediately developed an understanding of grief in ways I hadn't fully understood but thought I had. This book rips at you, slowly, before instantly eviscerating you, and then it holds you in the comfort of its truth and reassembles you, only to shatter you once again. Something more beautiful comes out in the collected, restitched pieces.
Finishing this book made me cry like I haven't in years, and it was glorious, truly. I shed many tears when my father died on Christmas Day ten years ago, but over time I've stifled them, grown more callous, hardened, reserved. Why? One of the central messages of A Heart That Works is Rob reminding us how wonderful it is to feel. To have loved someone, experienced them, laughed with them, touched them, eventually to lose them, and immediately realize how much more significant they were than we even knew. This book is a gift. A "soul kiss" as my father used to say. It needs delicate hands and soft eyes, and will sting you over and over. You'll be better for the wounds.
I can't imagine little Henry having anyone but Rob, his wife, their family, and the numerous caregivers he had around him. I can't begin to comprehend the magnitude of grief on this level, and of course, I feel for Rob as any decent human would, but I also admire him. In a world where emotions, feelings, and pain, especially from a man's perspective, are often suppressed (or shunned when displayed), Rob says, "Fuck that x infinity" and puts it all out there on the page, holding nothing back. It's immeasurably beautiful to see. He's right to love the sight of others breaking down in tears after hearing his story; it's where the essence of the human experience lies. There's no value in holding back, filtering, or diluting. This book made me an unglued, sloppy mess for a solid hour, and I have nothing but gratitude to Rob for it. Thank you.
I'm sorry about your boy, Rob. Love you, man.