“Henry Himself,” by Stewart O’Nan, is the story of an everyday man doing normal daily activities. It is a simple story of daily life; there is no plot or action just sparse prose written in short simple chapters. This is the third novel O’Nan has written about the Maxwell family and it’s a prequel. Even though I did not read the other two novels, “Henry, Himself” reads well as a stand-alone.
The story opens in 1998. Henry Maxwell is 75, a soldier in World War II; he has retired from Westinghouse where he spent his entire career working as an engineer. Maxwell has lived his whole life in Pittsburgh and has been married to Emily for 49 years.
He is your typical white male of the mid to late 20th century. He is not exciting—he is a husband, a father, a grandfather, a churchgoer and the breadwinner. He is all of our fathers.
Maxwell is very organized and fills his days with walking the dog, doing odd jobs around the house, playing golf and having a scotch nightly. He frets about growing older, knows he is not as strong as he used to be and that he forgets things, makes frequent trips to the restroom, and has to take too many pills. Maxwell spends much of this story wondering if he did a good job as a father and husband.
“Henry Himself” is a character-driven novel, the quiet story of a man from the greatest generation who finally learns at 75 to stop worrying about his past and any mistakes he may have made and to start living for for the moment. I enjoyed this simple novel, felt like I was reading about my dad.