Review: How to Be Loved by Eva Hagberg Fisher

Reviewed by April Line

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Candor is the best quality of Eva Hagberg Fisher’s How to Be Loved (Houghton Mifflin, 2019). Conceptually and linguistically, candor is fraught. People sometimes thank others for candor they wish had not been rendered, or use the word sharply, bloated with sarcasm. Candor is also sometimes celebrated, inspires gratitude in its receiver, or creates great wells of trust between humans. That conceptual difficulty is appropriate as I think about How to Be Loved. Fisher’s relentless reflections on her own thoughts, behaviors, and body throughout are, by turns, prickly and warm and judgy and forgiving—just like candor.

Fisher’s character arc is one of the most complete of all the memoirs I’ve read. She begins the book desperately self-obsessed, addicted to alcohol and drugs, still deeply intellectual, and high-achieving despite all of it. As her intensely unlucky and, as she puts it, random health journey unfolds, she makes gradual steps, one small revelation at a time, toward an awakened version of herself.

But this awakened Fisher is not all guru on a Tibetan mountain throat singing cliché factory nonsense. Fisher’s wakefulness is subtle and complicated and awful and wonderful. She remains self-focused and sometimes sharp or sarcastic or ungenerous. But she also begins to practice gratitude and being present in her body and in her life. She quiets her compulsive need to achieve and “be a star.” She begins to use the word love more freely, to trust in her friendships, despite her conflicted feelings about deserving them.

The best part of Fisher’s candor is that she one hundred percent avoids pedantry. There’s no sense for even a moment that she’s suggesting a specific path toward enlightenment or trying to do anything other than make sense of the messy business of living as a complicated sometimes-ill person.

While we meet many of Fisher’s friends throughout this book, Allison is the most significant. Allison has battled cancer for years already when Fisher meets her. And Fisher realizes that an important and successful life can be truly quiet and unremarkable when she reflects on Allison’s kindness, patience, and friendship. She writes, “…She’d never told me I wasn’t dying of metastasized cancer. She’d taken me seriously. She’d met me wherever I was. And that’s what I wanted to do for everyone else.”

This book is a delight. Go read it and weep and laugh and learn about love.

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