Flatiron Books: The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

Henry, Himself

Stewart O'Nan has perceptively mined the lives--and quiet dramas--of the Maxwell family of Pittsburgh, Pa., in two previous books. In Wish You Were Here, O'Nan introduced the family matriarch, Emily Maxwell, one year after the death of her husband, Henry. Emily offered her adult children--a floundering son and his family and an alcoholic daughter on the brink of divorce and her children--one last rendezvous at the family's summer home in upstate New York. In Emily, Alone, O'Nan thoughtfully presented Emily, years later, in her 80s, entrenched in widowhood and forced to re-invent herself again when her sister-in-law, a beloved companion, physically declines. In Henry, Himself, O'Nan offers a prequel to the previous Maxwell family books, focusing on the life of Henry, the patriarch, who has been absent thus far.

This story is set in 1998. Henry, a 75-year-old retired engineer, is slowing down and taking stock of his life--marriage and fatherhood, his work, what he's proud of and what he regrets. As in the other books, living through the mundane of everyday life resurrects memories of the past and raises existential questions. Henry considers his worth, whether he is a good person and what the future holds for him and Emily and the complicated lives of their offspring who chronically bewilder and disappoint.

O'Nan is a graceful, meticulous writer. Carefully chosen details woven into a stream-of-consciousness narrative magnify small, ordinary moments that ultimately lead toward profound enlightenment. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines