walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_The Ha-Ha_, Dave King

This was a confusing book. In a way, not confusing at all -- the story of a Vietnam Vet who got tossed in the air by a land mine and landed on his head. [ETA: The detailed memory of the moment of the explosion lacks any plausibility. Whatsoever.] At the end of his recovery, he still couldn't talk, sign, write, or, most of the time, decipher written words. He lives with his mother and father until they pass away (in the other order), and then lives on in the house he grew up with, now with renters who joined him while they were in college and have stayed on. Laurel makes soup for restaurants in town; the other two renters are painters.

Our Hero's high school sweetheart, Sylvia, has a 9 year old boy who comes to live in with him when his aunt makes his mother go into rehab for her cocaine (powder) problem. Our hero did a lot of drugs and hired a lot of hookers when he was younger, but not so much now. Now, he does maintenance for a convent, collects a disability check and helps Sylvia out; she, in turn, blames him for her failed (as an artist) life and her drug addiction.

The story is largely that of our hero, with the assistance of his housemates, figuring out how to keep a quiet and self-sufficient boy happy for the two months his mother is in rehab, altho initially, she's expected back much sooner and ultimately, our hero wishes Ryan didn't ever have to go back. A simple, charming tale of a man with a global communication deficit rebonding and reconnecting through a quirky cast of characters. There's also a sort of psychotic break and some other stuff when Sylvia takes Ryan back and cuts our hero out of her life, but that's kinda patched up and personally, it all felt like trying to manufacture a climax and denouement out of a story that didn't otherwise have one, but whatever.

I have two, related problems with the book, either of which would ultimately have made for an unsatisfactory experience; together, they leave me utterly perplexed. First, the author chose first person perspective and he really stuck to it, too. Yup: you read that right. First person narrator (and very fluent interior dialogue, I might add) has a global communication deficit. This might lead you to conclude that maybe it wasn't such a global communication deficit, but, no, two alternative explanations are presented for the deficit, one attributed to the doctors and the other described as his own by the narrator and neither is compatible with having a vibrant interior dialogue. I mean, that's just _hard_ for me to get past. One other member of the book group completely shared this issue with me, and a couple others understood the issue. Blank faces from the rest.

Second, I had a lot of trouble figuring out when and where the book took place. The author's parents bought an older house and restored it, moving in when he was in first grade, IIRC. Assuming our hero was in the the very last stages of the war, that implies the house was bought in 1963. Which is possible, but I guess it just seems a little odd to me that they would have been able to get a mortgage on a house like that in that time period, and incomprehensible to me that they would have been able to come up with the full purchase price. NOT impossible -- it just seems about a decade too early. *shrug* Maybe the timeline in Cleveland (based on the Indians cap Ryan wears, but the author in interviews is emphatic that he made the town up) was that different from the timeline in Seattle. It's difficult to tell exactly how old Sylvia or our hero are, but they are at least in their late 30s, possibly over 40, which would tend to imply mid 1990s. It just seems a little bizarre, however, that an artist in the midwest in this time frame would develop a powder cocaine habit, and the text seems clear that it wasn't a crack habit. *shrug* I've lived on both coasts, but I haven't lived in the midwest; maybe someone with more relevant experience can make sense of this, but I had this unshakeable feeling that the book was attempting to smash a story that belonged in the 1980s on top of a story that belonged in the late 1990s and hope no one noticed. If the characters were considerably older than I think they were, everyone else suffered from the same confusion. If the book really was set when it appeared to have been set, I am really confused about the assistive device Laurel got Howard for their first Christmas in the house together.

In any event, both problems in combination made it difficult for me to make an utterly plausible little fable about a disconnected guy looking to bond with other people finding a path to do so by nurturing a young'un take root in an actual believable world. Sorry about the mixing of the metaphors, but I intended that to illustrate the confusion I had described above. Perhaps it was more clever than effective.

Also, the ha-ha thing? I think Mr. King had heard of leit-motifs and wanted to build a book around one. Again, more clever than effective, for me at any rate. Oddly, other people in the group thought it was very effective, but they didn't seem to perceive the ha-ha as a metaphor for scary-bad-dangerous-that-must-be-ignored-while-carefully-skirted. Then again, if you read and believe what Mr. King says in interviews, this isn't the genesis of the ha-ha at all -- and if that's the case, I think I'd find it a whole lot more interesting to read about the contents of Mr. King's head a whole lot less indirectly.

Perhaps you will enjoy it more than I, and its deficiencies will confuse you less. It is not a bad book.
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