Tag Archives: Badlands

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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Dreams

Talk about a dream.   Try to make it real.   You wake up in the night with a fear so real.   Bruce Springsteen, “Badlands”

Diamond Ruby: A Novel by Joseph Wallace (Touchstone, $16.00, 480 pages)

Ruby Thomas can throw a baseball hard – harder than most major league pitchers.   But, in the 1920s, the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, popularized in the film A League of Their Own, did not yet exist, and the legal protections for female athletes afforded by 1972’s Title IX legislation were a very long way off.

In Joseph Wallace’s Diamond Ruby, an outbreak of the Spanish Influenza virus devastates Ruby’s family, and – as a very young girl – she must assume responsibility for the care of her two young nieces.   Needing to make money, she becomes a sideshow performer at an amusement park.   News of Ruby’s remarkable prowess travels quickly, but under the iron fist of her abusive boss, Ruby is essentially enslaved with no ready escape.

Two great athletes, Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey, check out Ruby’s show and befriend her.   Gamblers and booze smugglers have their own designs on how to use her for their own means.   Eventually, the owner of a professional start-up league spots her.   His plan is to sign her for her promotional value to help the league become profitable.   Nearly everyone wants to control Ruby and make money off of her, except a friend who takes her in during her time of greatest need, a law enforcement official who looks out for her, and, ironically, many of the athletes in the story whose respect she comes to earn.

Throughout the book, Ruby is frazzled by trying to devise ways to break free from the powerful men who want to use her for their own gain, coping with threats of the Ku Klux Klan who torment her because she is half Jewish, and experiencing the prejudice of the men who run organized baseball.   She does all this while dutifully supporting and protecting her nieces.   All she really wants to have is the joy of doing what she loves most – the opportunity to pitch on her own terms.

The story starts out a bit slowly as the tale of Ruby’s impoverished childhood and series of misfortunes unfolds.   For a while it is difficult to discern exactly what to make of the story beyond the fact that the only luck for Ruby is bad luck.   However, when things get going in the second half of the book, the reader will be glad they stuck with it.   Things move rapidly and the pages turn easily.  

The improbable convergences of events that bring the story to a close are cleverly constructed.   The ending is both heartwarming and hilarious.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

This book was purchased.   Dave Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel, which happens to be about baseball.

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