by Dave King
I earread this some time ago but have put off reviewing it until now. The main concept of the book-- a veteran who can't communicate properly or integrate back into the world-- has defitinitely been done before and done better. But I really liked the fact that Howard is thrown this wildcard: Ryan, son of his old girlfriend, who needs someone to look after him while Mom's in rehab.
My biggest problem was that I had a very difficult time really liking Howard. I started off feeling sorry for him and that changed slightly from being sorry about his disability to being sorry that he's a jerk. I guess he's allowed to be a jerk. That's perfectly understandable, given his situation. And there were times he said something to make me smile or really see deep down into his soul and not just the part of him that constantly has to put up with the people around him. It was really tough for me to like most people in this book. I think the problem is that the characters were very well written. They acted just like real people would. And real people can be selfish idiots. That wasn't enjoyable for me. I don't like stories about selfish idiots (see: the Great Gatsby). Nit and Nat were doofuses and I, again, felt sorry for them. And Laurel was likeable enough but the accent got on my nerves. Sylvia... I hated her. With a passion. I wanted to totally slap her silly. But Ryan... I liked Ryan. Well, once he stopped being a stupid, self-centered kid, that is. Luckily, he warms up to his new, strange family quite quickly and, once he does, I liked the book. But then it all goes pear-shaped again.
I liked the idea of the Ha-Ha as a central theme and metaphor. And it broke my heart when Howard took Ryan there and Ryan freaked out and got Howard fired. But the parts with the homeless vet bothered me a lot. I understand it was his expression of self-loathing or something... but it happens and nothing comes of it afterward. Heck, the way people treat Howard throughout is really hard for me to handle. He's not just "of normal intelligence" but he's got emotions just like everyone else. Maybe he's a little messed up, sure, but no one did what I wanted them to. The social interaction was... wrong.
Really, I kept expecting Sylvia to relapse and for us to find out she's been sneaking out to get drunk/high all the time with the new boyfriend. And I expected Howard and Laurel to get together and adopt Ryan. I expected it to end in one big happy family moment and save the whole thing for me. Predictable, yeah, but it's what I desperately wanted to see to save the novel. And it didn't happen. It defininitely didn't happen. So it left me feeling unfulfilled and confused and sad again.
If I'd been reading it, I know I would have given up on it. But I wanted to stick it out for my happy ending (which I didn't get, as cheesy as it would have been). At least there was an interesting interview with the author at the end. I liked that.