This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Harold (or Harry) is the elder, less athletic, less competitive brother to his narcissistic bully of a brother, George. One day George has a car accident and later murders his wife when he finds her in bed with Harry. The family are left stricken with grief and Harry is left in charge of their two children, house, dog and cat. Meanwhile, George has been contained in a ‘special’ facility, whilst Harry works his way through George’s medicine cabinet and dabbles online with strangers.
Finally one day it all catches up with Harold and he has a stroke. Once recovered, Harry returns to work to the discovery that he has been fired. This is his final push to finish the novel he has been working on over the years about his idol, the former President Nixon. During this time he forms a close relationship with Cheryl (who is married with children) and another woman called Amanda who seduces him after following him home after they meet in the grocery store. Things get even more hectic for Harry as he experiences a rollercoaster of extreme situations and difficult struggles. Harry finally realises what he wants in life is not what he expected… at all.
I found this book riveting. I loved that this average guy, who has a strange obsession with former President Nixon, has his life blown apart in a moment of madness, yet over time he grows and changes for the better. It doesn’t involve convention; it involves love as a parent, a colleague and a friend, but most importantly the love of a family who just want the best for the people in their lives. Harold is a classic anti-hero. Even in his final thoughts, it is obvious he hasn’t miraculously cleansed himself of the real ‘Harold’. Instead (and more realistically) he has become a better version of himself. I also loved that the end linked back to the beginning of the book, with important changes taking place along the way. This is a story about a normal guy that made me cry, laugh and gasp all the way through. I couldn’t help but hope that nothing else bad would happen to Harold as he experimented with life. He constantly battles to do his best (and sometimes fails), yet he still tries and finally settles on the life that makes him content.
I felt as though I was right there in his mind as each experience is so beautifully described. This painful story full of complications compelled me to love the main character and those around him who were also just trying to live a happy life. With references to ‘Death of a Salesman’, existentialism and a vibe that reminded me of ‘On the Road’, this novel is outstanding. Had I not known the author was female, I am ashamed to say I would have presumed a man had written this book. Not because I think men are better writers, but I think it is very hard to get into the mind of a man when you are a woman (and vice versa). However, Homes does it so perfectly, without over exaggerating or stereotyping the characters within the story.
In particular I felt drawn to the character Nate; the elder child of Jane. I felt his heartbreak over his mother’s death, I admired his strength and courage to keep his sister strong throughout the course of the story and I adored his conviction to help the village of ‘Nateville’ in Africa have a better way of life. During his struggles I truly wanted to be there for him as a mother and as a friend. Yet it is Harold – with his minimal words, his moving actions, and most notably the outstanding moment when Harold agrees to enter the Father/Son rock climbing competition (shortly after his stroke), and they win – who really grabbed my attention.
I loved the scenes of Harold spending time with Nate, Ashley and eventually Ricardo. The nights in Africa when they all end up in the same bed and Harold describes it as the best night’s sleep of his life were wonderfully written. The hilarity is that in the next breath Harold is having explosive diarrhoea in the bushes – the kind of shift that occurs regularly in the book. The whole story flits between heartfelt moments to gruesome descriptions to insane experiences. The manic transition between one thing to the next is fantastic and it literally feels like real life is happening right there on the page.
Ultimately, I think this book is fantastic and I actually want to read it again and again. The story is dense and although I have mentioned quite a lot of events, it really doesn’t even scratch the surface. There is so much more to this book than the things I have already mentioned!
For me, the thing I loved the most is that the main character is so utterly compelling and realistically flawed, which makes up for books out there trying so hard to make a hero or heroine out of it all.
This is just ‘life’ in a book… and I love it.