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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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Rocket Man (a book review)

Rocket_Man_2“It’s just my job five days a week…”   Like the disoriented astronaut in Bernie Taupin and Elton John’s song “Rocket Man,” the forty-plus-year-old mortgage broker Dale Hammer finds himself disoriented in his own suddenly harsh suburban life.   Hammer is a former one-hit novelist who has managed to become materialistically comfortable.   But when he moves his family to a big house in the suburbs of Chicago, the pin is pulled on the grenade that may obliterate his comfortable life.

So, yet another novel about suburban angst?   True, this hardly sounds like a promising premise, but author William (Bill) Hazelgrove is a skilled comedic writer making the first half of Rocket Man a quick read.   While things in his life are falling apart, Hammer has a chance for redemption.   He’s tapped to be the organizer of “Rocket Day” for his son’s troop of sixty Boy Scouts.

In order to succeed in his mission as the appointed Rocket Man Hammer will have to concentrate on some serious science and details while he fights with his homeowner’s association, faces criminal charges, houses his penniless father, and tries to decipher whether his wife is divorcing him or simply having an affair.

How does it end up?   You will need to read this novel to find out; however, this reviewer suggests that you listen to The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again when you get to the last half of the last chapter.   Once finished, you may well look forward to ordering the next serio-comic tale from Hazelgrove.

Pantonne Press, $19.95, 378 pages

Note:   Thank you to Pantonne Press for the review copy.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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