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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