Henry, Himself

I read Henry, Himself during the Covid 19 shutdown period. I almost didn’t crack it open as it had so-so reviews on Goodreads but when I looked at the subject matter, it seemed like the perfect antidote to the crisis we are living through.

Henry, Himself is written by 59 year old, Stewart O’Nan, his age being relevant insofar as he has written an entire book about the daily life and musings of a long-wedded man in his mid-70’s. If you are a person who loves the gut-twisting thrill of the suspenseful crime/mystery genre, this book is not for you. However, if you love character driven stories and perhaps have been lucky enough to have survived a long and generally happy marriage, this may be a male reflection of a well-lived life that you will enjoy.

We join Henry Maxwell, who lives with Emily, his wife of 49 years, in Pittsburgh PA. They have 2 grown children, Margaret and Kenny, who both have children of their own. We get to observe the daily obligations, ruminations, pressures and pleasures Henry experiences over the course of a year.

As a retired engineer, Henry’s responsibilities in the home have been determined by the traditional male/female roles embraced by the generation in which he and Emily were raised. Whether nestled in his workshop ‘fixing’ things, or out in the yard stewing about the lawn, we are able to listen to Henry ruminate about his life, his family and the world about him. While nothing ‘happens’ in this story, it is full to brimming with the daily minutiae of life that we all experience. The experiences he shares during family cottage time in Chautauqua create such an evocative palette of lazy summer days and glorious star-filled night skies that I was taken back to cottage times I was blessed to have had in my own life.

Henry’s reflections on his marriage are inspiring and heart-warming. Here is a man who loves his wife whole-heartedly and accepts her with all of the warts and beauty marks she bestows upon him. In his recognition and acceptance of Emily’s idiosyncrasies, he comes to accept and forgive his own.

This was a good, gentle read…. not fast-paced but thoroughly enjoyable!

— Nancy C.