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The Great Pretender

Rocket Man (Hazelgrove)

Rocket Man: A Novel by William Hazelgrove (Koehler Books, $16.95, 290 pages)

“Poor man wanna be rich/Rich man wanna be king/And the king ain’t satisfied/Till he rules everything.” Bruce Springsteen (“Badlands”)

What We Pretend to Be

William Hazelgrove’s Rocket Man is simply superb. He captures the essence of suburban hypocrisy with such aplomb that it is almost impossible to give another person an idea of how good this book is without blurting out, “Just read the damn thing!” Especially if that person never actually experienced this great wonder we call suburbia.

The story, strictly speaking, is about a man whose marriage and relationship with his son is falling apart due to the weight of unrealistic expectations of what a man, marriage, and family should be. Financial stress, combined with having to pretend one is something they are not, comes to a head when Dale Hammer’s out-of-work father shows up at his doorstep.

If Dale is not Ward Cleaver, it is a safe bet that his wife, Wendy – who has been conspiring with their neighbor to generate divorce papers, is far from June. Dale is a former aspiring writer who, ironically, can’t close a sale on a house, while Wendy is a lawyer, who, for some reason or another, stands idly by and refuses to work as their life continues its descent.

The title comes form a scouting activity in which Dale becomes the “Rocket Man,” the scout leader who fires off all of the kids’ rockets during the ever popular Rocket Day. The book features a happy ending when Dale, in one final act of defiance, “blows up” the myth of the American Dream and the lie his life has become.

rocket_man_2

Rocket Man does not spew venom. Instead, it very subtly forces the reader to question his or her values and challenges anyone who has ever confused some monstrosity of a house in a subdivision where everyone pretends to be “just like them” with the American Dream. There is a fine line between freedom and slavery.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Dave Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

You can read other reviews of Rocket Man here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2009/07/28/harmony-a-review-of-rocket-man-the-novel/

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2009/07/07/rocket-man-a-book-review/

http://troybear.blogspot.com/2009/04/rocket-man-by-william-elliot-hazelgrove.html

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Harmony: A Review of Rocket Man (the novel)

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.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

rocket right

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