four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
15-Mar-Apr-2005
By: 
Dave King
user_rating: 
0

A Novel

A-HaHaWhen Howard Kapostash suffered a blow to his head while serving in Vietnam, he lost the power to speak, read, and write. For the last 30 years, he’s been living in his childhood home with Laurel, a Vietnamese-American cook, and two housepainters whom he calls Nit and Nat. Then Sylvia, a former high school girlfriend, drops off her nine-year-old son, Ryan, on her way to drug rehab. As Howard and his motley crew start to care for Ryan, Howard is forced to abandon his hermetic existence. He slowly relearns the power of love, family, and "normal" life. But when Sylvia returns, will Howard again risk losing his hard-won human ties?
Little, Brown. 368 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 0316156108

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"The Ha-Ha is a war novel about war’s long-lasting effects. … Equally impressive is the technical achievement of writing a novel from the point of view of a character who cannot speak, read or write." John McNally

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"But for us, transported into Howard’s mind by the magic of fiction, his long-silenced voice is irresistible. … In the poetic voice of a silent man, King has created a strangely lovable hero whose chance for happiness will matter to you deeply."
Ron Charles

New York Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Ryan’s and Howard’s defenses are gradually stripped away, and what their growing closeness awakens in them and those around them is the crux of King’s story. … His novel is unflaggingly believable." Mark Kamine

San Diego Union-Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"To King’s great credit, The Ha-Ha never devolves into sentimentality or mawkishness. … Even Sylvia, arguably the novel’s villain, operates with the kind of selfishness that is frustrating but ultimately understandable." Debra Ginsberg

Critical Summary

King’s first novel could have overflowed into mawkishness, but it didn’t. Ha-Ha, which centers on the relationship between Ryan and Howard and the stripping away of their defenses, rings true to life without emotional manipulation. The writing is excellent, and King creates tender, complex characters on different paths to recovery. Howard, despite his disability, has an irresistible "voice"—he’s honest, cynical, but optimistic ("Deep down," he narrates, "I’m an optimist. It’s my most depressing characteristic.") Even the villain Sylvia acts in understandable ways. A few inconsistencies with Howard’s diction and the title’s overwrought metaphor (a "ha-ha" is a boundary wall concealed in a ditch) barely disrupt the narrative flow. Ha-Ha, The New York Times Book Review concludes, "establishes King as a writer of consequence."