A Family Patriarch Finally Gets His Due

From Boston University’s alumni magazine:

When author Stewart O’Nan introduced readers to his fictional Maxwell clan in 2002’s Wish You Were Here, the family patriarch, Henry Maxwell, had recently died. In that novel and again in 2011’s Emily, Alone, readers caught only glimpses of Henry in the memories of his surviving family members. In O’Nan’s new novel, Henry, Himself (Viking, 2019), Henry finally gets his due.

“The book is about revealing who he actually is,” says O’Nan (ENG’83). “Not what other people say he is, but the way he feels and thinks.”

O’Nan hadn’t expected to return to the Maxwells. The author of 18 novels, he has tackled vastly different subjects and settings in each of his books: fast food shift workers in Last Night at the Lobster and the last days of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald in West of Sunset. When he started Wish You Were Here, O’Nan says, he intended it to be about Henry’s recently widowed wife, Emily. But he found the other characters—Henry’s sister, Arlene, his children, Kenny and Margaret, and his grandchildren—vying for his attention. Nine years later, in Emily, Alone, he chronicled Emily’s life as a widow. But there was something about Henry that kept nagging at him. He decided it was time to go back and see what he could discover about him.

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The Circus Fire

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Today is the 75th anniversary of the Hartford Circus Fire, which claimed 167 lives and changed thousands more. Never forget.

Henry, Himself on New York Times Editors’ Choice List!

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It’s May, after all, and in this part of the world the trees have started budding and the birds that aren’t extinct have started singing. What better time to read Ali Smith’s novel “Spring,” which balances its political anxieties with emotional complexity and a warmth appropriate to the season? Continuing with fiction, you might pick up Stewart O’Nan’s character study “Henry, Himself,” or settle in with Julie Orringer’s historical novel “The Flight Portfolio,” about Varian Fry’s exploits saving dissidents from the Nazis. Jennifer duBois is back, with a novel about a talk-show host who goes too far, and Laila Lalami sets her latest novel in the towns of the Mojave Desert, where a hit-and-run death ties together the stories of nine very different characters.

HENRY, HIMSELF, by Stewart O’Nan. (Viking, $27.) A novel that uses short vignettes to capture a year in the life of the Pittsburgh man whose shadow loomed over two of O’Nan’s earlier novels. Most of us know people like Henry from the outside; the gift of O’Nan’s fiction is to immerse us deeply in his essence. “This is a novel that charms not through the complexities of its plot but through its subtle revelations of character and the human condition,” Dominic Smith writes in his review.

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