Friday, October 3, 2008

Book Review: Rocket Man by William Elliot Hazelgrove

I was asked to review this book for Front Street Reviews

"Rocket Man" by William Elliot Hazelgrove
Published by Pantonne Press

Rating: 4 stars

It’s not just any author that has the opportunity to write in the attic of the white Victorian where the legendary Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899. However, for William Elliot Hazelgrove, Hemingway writer in residence for the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, this writer’s fantasy became a reality. The Hemingway residence became his studio and ultimately the muse for his writing.

Hazelgrove’s fourth novel, entitled "Rocket Man", is a satire about the search for the American Dream and all the devastating and sometimes hilarious consequences that accompany it. The narrative focuses on middle-aged Dale Hammer, who has moved his family out of the city and left a life of culture and diversity for the suburban countryside. The move creates a strain between Dale and his wife Wendy, because she is content living amongst their all-American White neighbors, while Dale is constantly feeling regret. Dale is in a state of suburban angst and cannot relate to his new lifestyle of homeowners association meetings and Boy Scouts of America outings. Once a successful author, Dale can only bask in his past glory and is now struggling to pay the bills. His relationship with his nine-year-old son is steadily deteriorating as his son gets older and he finds himself having a hard time being the role model he knows he should be. It is hard enough trying to be the perfect husband and father, not to mention avoiding confrontation with the conservative yuppies in the community, but there is yet another hurdle Dale must overcome. Dale’s father, D.T. Senior, always absent when he was growing up, has arrived on his doorstep to come and live with him. D.T. Senior’s colorful personality and foul mouth exacerbate Dale’s already tumultuous daily life.

The book’s title, "Rocket Man", is inspired by the title that is bestowed upon Dale by his son’s Scout troops. This means that Dale is accountable for leading the Rocket Day ceremony and is a highly anticipated day for all of the Scouts and their leaders. However, Dale does not seem to be up to the challenge. Instead, he represents that childish part of each and every one of us that initiates a flight response at any mention of responsibility and is the kind of guy who causes a high speed chase between him and his son’s school crossing guard. It was the juvenile behavior that drew me to Dale and kept me reading but ironically enough, it was also what infuriated me about him. Why won’t this guy just grow up, I kept thinking to myself. Hazelgrove, however, carefully outlined his novel and I saw soon enough that Dale would learn how to fuel his immaturity towards challenging authority in a positive way. Rocket Day is the culmination of the book and will make readers proud of Dale at last, well sort of.

The book’s subject matter is perfectly suited for the everyday American male trying to achieve the perfect harmony between family life and personal contentment, but Hazelgrove has offered something for everyone in "Rocket Man". I found myself relating to the suburban community’s antics and the wild family drama. The novel’s ending did seem a bit too contrived for my liking but upon further reflection, I don’t think I would have wanted things to end up any differently!

While "Rocket Man" is a deeply exaggerated portrait of the typical American family, it is at the same time, a very relatable story. The characterization is real and the strong-willed personalities make them come alive and easily engage readers. Hazelgrove’s humor is subtly infused throughout the book and is unbelievably witty. I suggest reading the last paragraph of the book carefully, because I’m still laughing….

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Anonymous said...

I can't wait to get my copy of this one!

Sheri S. said...

I hope you enjoy it!!