Read the full review.
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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.
Full text of the review:
O’Nan’s elegiac companion piece to his 2011 novel, Emily, Alone, follows Emily’s husband of 49 years, Henry Maxwell, who, at 75, suffers from variety of physical ailments. The year is 1998 and readers follow Henry and his family from Valentine’s Day to New Year’s Eve as they celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, observe annual traditions, and spend the summer by the lake. Henry and Emily grapple with their two adult children, Margaret and Kenny, their respective spouses, Jeff and Lisa, and their grandchildren. Nothing especially dramatic happens, except, maybe, when Margaret, who is a recovering alcoholic, gets into an accident right before Thanksgiving and Emily rushes to be with her, leaving Henry to serve the holiday feast to the rest of his family on his own. A member of the “Greatest Generation,” Henry deals with his own growing sense of mortality, but he does it with a rare grace that endears him to the reader. 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. (Apr.)