Henry, Himself


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A beautifully spare and poignant new novel…the gift of O’Nan’s fiction is to immerse us deeply in Henry’s essence, in his desire to be useful and his nostalgia for a vanished way of life, for the forgotten homespun rituals and for houses with slate roofs and ornate gables.

Dominic Smith, The New York Times Book Review, May 2, 2019

New York Times Editors’ Choice List

Henry, Himself Sell Sheet_4.3-page-001





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A member of the greatest generation looks back on the loves and losses of his past and comes to treasure the present anew in this poignant and thoughtful new novel from a modern master

Stewart O’Nan is renowned for illuminating the unexpected grace of everyday life and the resilience of ordinary people with humor, intelligence, and compassion. In this prequel to the beloved Emily, Alone, he offers an unsentimental, moving life story of a twentieth-century everyman.

Soldier, son, lover, husband, breadwinner, churchgoer, Henry Maxwell has spent his whole life trying to live with honor. A native Pittsburgher and engineer, he’s always believed in logic, sacrifice, and hard work. Now, seventy-five and retired, he feels the world has passed him by. It’s 1998, the American century is ending, and nothing is simple anymore. His children are distant, their unhappiness a mystery. Only his wife Emily and dog Rufus stand by him. Once so confident, as Henry’s strength and memory desert him, he weighs his dreams against his regrets and is left with questions he can’t answer: Is he a good man? Has he done right by the people he loves? And with time running out, what, realistically, can he hope for?

Like Emily, Alone, Henry, Himself is a wry, warmhearted portrait of an American original who believes he’s reached a dead end only to discover life is full of surprises.

Publication Date: April 9, 2019

Advance praise for Henry, Himself: 

“As usual, this profoundly unpretentious writer employs lucid, no-frills prose to cogently convey complicated emotions and fraught family interactions. The novel makes no claims for Henry or his kin as exceptional people but instead celebrates the fullness and uniqueness of each ordinary human being. Astute and tender, rich in lovely images and revealing details—another wonderful piece of work from the immensely gifted O’Nan.” Kirkus, Starred Review

“Charming, meditative, gently funny, and stealthily poignant portrait [of Henry] . . . O’Nan elevates the routines and chores of quiet domesticity to a nearly spiritual level in his lingering attention to details . . . Like Richard Russo and Anne Tyler, O’Nan discerningly celebrates the glory of the ordinary in this pitch-perfect tale of the hidden everyday valor of a humble and good man.” Booklist

“Engaging and immersive . . . One of O’Nan’s gifts is his ability to craft his characters with such uncanny attention to detail that the reader comes to care for them as the author does . . . [A] poignant, everyman story.” Book Page

Henry, Himself is a satisfying and hopeful rumination on the human condition as only Stewart O’Nan can write it.”  — Eric Sandberg, Knock and Knowall


Star Tribune: In this prequel to “Emily, Alone,” Stewart O’Nan creates a vivid world inside the head of a taciturn retired suburban man.

O’Nan trusts that the simplicity of his story, rather than dulling Henry’s character, will instead reveal it. Set against plain domestic backdrops, objects become practically radioactive with symbolic depth. A dusty old centerpiece evokes his mother. A useless roof aerial suggests a lost connection to his children. An ever-collapsing silverware drawer reminds him he’ll always have problems — and a job to do.

New York Post‘s Best Books of the Week

A member of the Greatest Generation, Henry has been a soldier, husband, father, churchgoer and has tried to live his 75 years with honor. Now it’s 1998, the native Pittsburgher is retired, and nothing seems simple anymore. As he moves through his final years, he second-guesses past decisions and wonders if life still holds any surprises.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: ‘Henry, Himself’: An enduring tribute to an ordinary life

O’Nan…excels at observing nuanced dramas and personalities playing out beneath the skin of something as mundane an extended family at their summer cottage, doing a jigsaw puzzle during a rainstorm. This is a book about how life’s major plotlines roll by beneath the tide of moments and routine, ocean flotsam, surfacing only to sink again.

emissourian.com: “Review: “Henry Himself”

“Henry Himself” is a character-driven novel, the quiet story of a man from the greatest generation who finally learns at 75 to stop worrying about his past and any mistakes he may have made and to start living for for the moment. I enjoyed this simple novel, felt like I was reading about my dad.


The Seattle Times: Narratives of struggle, from political strife in Vichy France to a man confronting death

“Henry, Himself” is a beautiful book with a touch of the ineffable about it, and the best novel I have read so far this year.


Publishers Weekly:

The author evokes Henry’s middle-class Pittsburgh existence like a Keystone State Joyce. One would have to go back to Evan S. Connell’s Mrs. Bridgeand Mr. Bridge to find a literary marriage bookended in such a perceptive fashion.