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 learned to be authentic now.
“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’s 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 Gone So Long 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's 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: The Next Interesting Thing and A Three Dog Life
"Melanie Brooks's tender narrative of living with the secret of her father’s AIDS diagnosis during the epidemic’s era of shame and stigma 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
"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
“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.
""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
Melanie Brooks is the author of Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma (Beacon Press, 2017). She teaches professional writing at Northeastern University and narrative medicine in the MFA program at Bay Path University in Massachusetts and creative writing at Nashua Community College in New Hampshire. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast writing program. She is currently completing a Certificate of Narrative Medicine at Columbia University. She has had numerous interviews and essays on topics ranging from loss and grief to parenting and aging published in Psychology Today, the HuffPost, Yankee Magazine, the Washington Post, Ms. Magazine, Creative Nonfiction, and other notable publications. Her forthcoming memoir, A Hard Silence (September 2023), explores the lasting impact of living with the 10-year secret of her father’s HIV before his death in 1995. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband, two children (when they are home from college), and two labs.