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by Jannifer Dawson
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Peel back the made-for-TV-movie premise of Dave King's The Ha-Ha and you'll find a shrewd, engrossing, and occasionally gritty first novel in the tradition of Jane Smiley. Howard is a brain-damaged Vietnam vet who can't speak or write, but who has managed to establish a reasonably good life in his small Midwestern hometown. In fact, Howard's chief limitation isn't his silence but his lingering romantic attachment to his high school girlfriend, Sylvia, now the drug-addicted single mother of a nine-year-old boy named Ryan (not Howard's child). Accustomed to Howard's devotion--and equally accustomed to rejecting his love, like a campfire she pees on again and again--Sylvia more or less dumps Ryan on him when she is forced to enter rehab. Yes, the handicapped vet must forge a relationship with the sullen fatherless boy. With material as Hallmark-tinged like this, it's only through vivid, honest, and far from syrupy characterization that King keeps sentimentality at bay. You can predict what happens when the gruff Howard begins to coach Little League (aw, shucks), but not his ferocious reaction to Sylvia's eventual betrayal. A skillful debut with several surprises. --Regina Marler
From Publishers Weekly
King offers a deeply genuine performance of this subtle yet affecting novel told from the perspective of Howard Kapostash, a wounded Vietnam veteran whose injury has left him unable to read, write or speak, but who is, as the card he's always reluctant to give people points out, "of normal intelligence." After Howard agrees to look after his ex-girlfriend's son, Ryan, while she is in rehab, Ryan's presence profoundly alters the lives of Howard and his three housemates. The vital element to the success of this recording is how Kinney's reading voice meshes with Howard's narrative one. Kinney does an excellent job with Howard's various moods, from the quiet joy of watching Ryan's Little League practice to the simmering and occasionally explosive frustration of not being able to communicate his thoughts. He also slides easily between the Texas drawl of one character and the slangy banter of a feckless pair of 20-somethings living under Howard's roof. The production includes some aptly employed musical accompaniment. Soft piano, for instance, tinkles in the background as Howard remembers the mine explosion that injured him, and a buoyant, guitar-driven theme recurs but avoids being cloying or overdone. The same can be said for the book itself, which—though loosely predictable—remains earnest and inspiring. Simultaneous release with the Little, Brown hardcover (Forecasts, Nov. 15, 2004). (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From The New Yorker
King's first novel is told from the point of view of Howie Kapostash, a Vietnam vet who was left unable to speak or write as the result of an explosion. He mows the lawn at the local convent, and shares his ramshackle childhood home with lodgers. King has a gift for the kind of easy dialogue that feels like a game of catch, the very thing Howie can't participate in, and his details ring true—the sad house, the starchy nuns, Howie's smug sense of his wasted life. But it's a setup waiting for pathos, and when Howie's coke-addicted high-school girlfriend saddles him with her nine-year-old son the plot moves predictably (damaged vet cheering at school pageant; vet buying catcher's mitt) toward movie-ready redemption.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
From Bookmarks Magazine
Kings first novel could have overflowed into mawkishness, but it didnt. Ha-Ha, which centers on the relationship between Ryan and Howard and the stripping away of their defenses, rings true to life without emotional manipulation. The writing is excellent, and King creates tender, complex characters on different paths to recovery. Howard, despite his disability, has an irresistible "voice"hes honest, cynical, but optimistic ("Deep down," he narrates, "Im an optimist. Its my most depressing characteristic.") Even the villain Sylvia acts in understandable ways. A few inconsistencies with Howards diction and the titles overwrought metaphor (a "ha-ha" is a boundary wall concealed in a ditch) barely disrupt the narrative flow. Ha-Ha, The New York Times Book Review concludes, "establishes King as a writer of consequence."
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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