The Hair of Harold Roux Paperback – Feb 1 1995
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“The Hair of Harold Roux is breathtakingly good. The pages are alive with all the gilded vitality of realism's silkiest champions (John Updike, John Cheever), but it also anticipates the novelist-within-a-novel artifice honed later by Philip Roth in his Zuckerman books. It's a joy and a thrill to read.” ―Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Writing must make its own way in the world, and often, the best stuff (and believe me, The Hair of Harold Roux is among the best stuff) falls to the side. Who can say what the culture notices, and why? But with the re-release of The Hair of Harold Roux, we have the opportunity for a bit of literary reclamation ... 36 years after it won the National Book Award and promptly disappeared.” ―LATimes.com
“[Why it works] has a lot to do with Williams' rigorous sense of interior examination, the minute-by-minute way he traces the existence of his middle-aged protagonist, a man beset equally by responsibility and the sense that time is no longer on his side. This is hardly an uncommon set of circumstances, but here it becomes the stuff of a minor epic drama... Williams constructs a novel that is as simple on the surface as it is nuanced and dense underneath.” ―David Ulin, Los Angeles Times
“A superb and engrossing achievement.” ―Joseph Heller
“The language flows from the purest vernacular to the elevations demanded by distilled perception. Our larges sympathies are roused, tormented, and consoled.” ―Washington Post Book World
“[This] novel is terrific: it is sweet, funny, and sexy... Williams is an accomplished magician.” ―Newsweek
“Williams proves once again he can do almost anything with words. This is literature.” ―Publishers Weekly--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From the Publisher
5 1/2 x 8 1/2 trim. LC 94-44582See all Product Description
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While Prof. Aaron Benson is writing his story set in the well-described 1940s, he is living his own life in the 1970s, just before the end of the Vietnam War. College departments are pushing the "publish or perish" requirement for tenure and have made the life of at least one of Aaron's friends a misery, while also exerting pressure on Aaron himself. His need to write his novel has created some problems in his marriage, and he often invents personal fantasies about what he has missed with regard to other women. It is the sometimes frightening stories he creates for his children, ages six and eight, that reveal his fascination with the dramatic effects of fiction. Cuddling with them on the couch as he spins his stories, he literally "feels the story with their reality," an event so full of emotion that "he loses his voice."
As he creates Allard's novel, Thomas Williams writes some of the best and most excitingly sensuous descriptions ever. Both Aaron Benham and Allard Benson describe the freedom of flying down the road on their vintage motorcycles, Aaron indicating that only then does he "feel the symmetry of having made something out of chaos" simply by arriving home safely. When Allard Benson meets Mary Tolliver's father, he notes that the yellow-brown skin on Mr. Tolliver's face "hung as though draped over his head and tacked here and there, at the corners of his eyes and where his ears were attached to his head." When Allard visits a friend at a miniature village, he rides on a hand-crafted railway with a 1/6 scale locomotive. Sporting "three brass lanterns on its front end...the engine seemed to peer straight ahead with the powerful yet slightly moronic, clownish intensity of a cyclops."
Constantly playing with fiction vs. reality, fiction as part of reality, fiction as an alternative to reality, and the special fictions one creates for love, Williams creates a powerful, dramatic novel, filled with events which keep the reader constantly involved with his characters. It is only when sordid reality destroys all the fictions that someone has created in order to cope with everyday life, that one recognizes just how important it is to keep going by creating newer but more realistic fictions. Mary Whipple
He's stalled on his latest novel; he's dealing with the hysterical mother of a missing student as well as the worried wife of a doctoral candidate who won't finish his thesis; and he's disappointed his family once again by forgetting about the family trip they had planned. During that long weekend alone, while his family has gone on without him, Aaron wrestles with age-old questions: Who am I? How did I get here? What is my purpose?
Set in New England of the early 1970s, the novel ranges through time and memory and fiction itself. We are treated to Aaron's stream-of-consciousness reminiscences of WWII Army life, the goings-on of the present day, and his struggles with his novel. In fact, we spend a lot of time inside Aaron's novel itself..."a thinly disguised memoir of his college days," to quote the back cover. And even some time inside the novel's novel...each story interconnected by outside events, haunting regrets, and foolish young decisions. Aaron's world allows him to be selfish and self-indulgent -- a guilty flaw he fully recognizes and explores at length through his own internal dialogue and that of Allard Benson, the alter ego of his novel. By the time we reach the conclusion, Aaron may or may not be a better person, but he's certainly aware.
Although it took me a little while to get into the rhythm, the story flowed easily, with beautiful language, well-drawn fully-fleshed characterizations, and smooth transitions. Well worth reading.
Thank you, LibraryThing Early Reviewers, for the opportunity to read this book.
There are stories within stories, 5 in all, woven together to create a ponderous exploration of life's struggles and mysteries. From the opening sentence - Aaron Benham sits at his desk hearing the wrong voices. - to the touching afterword written by his daughter, this book was captivating. There were so many intricate details to absorb, words and ideas to ponder, character motivations to analyze, fictions versus realities to discern, symbols of warm fires and the chill of absolute zero, twists of fate and luck, all written by a master. I took pages of notes as I read, not so much to help me write a review as to help me remember the unique and meaningful prose.
I was often reminded of the rich detail and style of John Irving, and was not surprised to learn he was a former student and friend of Williams. Thomas Williams never achieved Irving's commercial success in his lifetime, but based on this work, he should have. This is a highly recommended, well written novel.