Henry, Himself: A Novel by Stewart O’Nan


Reviewed by Allen Hott

This is quite a different book. No violence, no sex, just very good interesting writing about a 75 year old man and how he lives his life. Henry Maxwell is a retired engineer and former soldier who lives with his wife in the Pittsburgh area and stays busy by “puttering around”.

He is well educated and also is a good do-it-your-selfer. He and his wife, Emily of fifty plus years, have children who are somewhat distant but still relevant in his life. He spends most of his time walking his dog, Rufus, and doing all types of maintenance jobs around his home especially the yard and fence area.

Much of the time his mind is working as to what kind of life did he live and was it a good one for those connected to him. He worries that he wasn’t a good man but all indicators say that he was and is. His children all love him, his wife loves him, and the folks in the neighborhood think highly of him.

It mostly revolves around the “projects” that he does to keep the area looking well and his trips with his wife to the lake in Chautauqua where they keep another residence especially for summer visits. Henry is somewhat concerned about the changes in the neighborhood and even the supermarkets where he shops quite extensively. Changes seem to be coming too quickly and not necessarily with a lot of reason.

Overall it is a true to life picture of a man growing old and not sure exactly how to cope with it. He thinks a lot about the past and not a whole lot about the future as he is still unsure of what is going to happen.

As an eighty-five year old reader of Henry, Himself I got a lot of satisfaction out of this book because it pretty well nails down the feelings of the older generation. Overall a very interesting and thoughtful book!