In June of 1995, Richard Ford released what one source called a “dull, jaded, satirical view of suburban life…”, a novel called Independence Day. The New York Times’ overly serious review of Independence Day carried the weighty headline, “Afloat in the Turbulence of the American Dream.”
I loved Ford’s earlier (1986) novel, The Sportswriter, but I found Independence Day to be a bit too dry and slow of a read. So when I saw that the novel Rocket Man also deals with suburban angst, I worried that it might be a long trek through its 377 pages. This fear was groundless…
From the very first, I was hooked on this story by William (Bill) Elliot Hazelgrove and I made it straight through to page 370 before putting it down for the day. Hazelgrove smartly starts the tale with some laugh-out-loud humor before settling into the more serious sections. When it dawns on you that the story has become less amusing, it doesn’t matter – you just want to know what happens next.
I’m not a fan of book or movie reviews that give away the entire story, but a few things should be mentioned about the plot. The lead character, Dale Hammer, is a former novelist – currently a mortgage broker – who has moved his family from the old, established, city of Oakland, Illinois to the “far west suburb” of Charleston, Illinois. In one week his life goes from being on automatic pilot (“I feel the surprise of a man who occupies a life he is not familiar with.”) to one in which he faces multiple and substantive challenges. His life, as Paul Simon, might have sung, is on fire and on the evening news.
The one positive in Hammer’s situation is that he’s been selected (or maybe simply volunteered) to be Rocket Man, the adult who supervises dozens and dozens of scouts on the day they meet in a public park to launch their working rockets. Hammer is trained for the assignment by his predecessor Dale Heinrich, a man both highly intelligent and so strange that Hammer is unsure “whether to shake (his) hand or call for the boys in the while suits.”
Does Hammer meet and overcome the challenges in his life? Does he, as a non-conformist, buckle down to succeed in his new role as the Rocket Man?
You’ll have to read the book yourself to find out, but for me the ending came together as smoothly as Elton John’s song Harmony. I look forward to the next good read from Hazelgrove.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.