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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hello, I Must Be Going

I just finished reading the book "Hello, I Must Be Going" by Christie Hodgen, and as much as I enjoyed the book, I found it to be, at times, puzzling.  The young narrator is Frankie Hawthorne, who is growing up in a lower-income family with a younger brother, Teddy who can be difficult at times, a mother, Gerry, who is a waitress at a Friendly's Restaurant and a chain smoker, and a father, Randall, who was a Vietnam Veteran and an amputee, who masks his depression through his comedy.  The book is supposed to be set in the year 1980, but I sense it more to be set in the early 1970s as the family is suffering from a detached appreciation for Vietnam Vets as a result of a very unpopular war. 

HelloIMustBeGoingMedI say "supposed" to be, and this is where I'm puzzled, because the images that I conjure up in my brain while reading Hodgen's story is from the 1960s and early 1970s. The Lawrence Welk show, Dick Van Dyke Show, Jackie Gleason, The Three Stooges, Black & White television.  1960s right?  I mean, I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, I remember what went on, and I found myself checking the inside flap of the book 3 times while I read it just to make sure something wasn't wrong with my eyesight. 

However, with a father that is a Vietnam Veteran and attempting to go back to school to complete his education, I can see how that would be the early 1970s.  Still, there were periods of confusion in the storyline that conjured up images of a different decade than the one I "think" I was supposed to be in.   

Nevertheless, the story was sad, funny, and interesting.  Frankie is struggling throughout the book, because early on, after returning home with her mother and brother from a Christmas outing, she runs into her father's office to get him and discovers he has committed suicide.  This, of course, haunts her throughout the story, but how she deals with it is through silence and detachment. 

Frankie likes to take her situations, and at times, replay them in her mind in the third person, or sketch something silly in her sketchbook (illustrations are throughout the book), or banter back and forth with a school psychologist named Mr. Jolly.  It is all a bit odd and sad.  You get the sense that Frankie really wants to talk about her feelings of loss, but she never gets around to it.

Teddy doesn't have a voice in the book, although I sense he was growing apart from his family more and more as he got older, ultimately resulting in a car crash.  He survives, but you never really know what happens in his life. 

Gerry, the mother, struggles with single-parenthood, her own feelings of loss, and ultimately meets someone who "I think" cares for her and wants to build a home with her.  However, towards the end of the book, Gerry and her daughter, Frankie are putting everything they own in the house on the front lawn and grappling with people over price and condition of furniture and toys.  Apparently, Gerry is certain that her new boyfriend is going to buy all new furniture for the house, but we never really know.  All we know is that they are now living together and the kids aren't too happy about it (they aren't really "kids" anymore by the end of the book, they are late teens I suppose). 

HelloIMustBeGoingMedI enjoyed the book, albeit somewhat depressing, but I don't really know where the author was trying to take me with this story.  There was not a firm conclusion or even a hint, really, of a conclusion that I could grasp.  I know that Frankie ultimately goes to college in New York, but although the author leads us in a direction of apprehension and fear of New York for Frankie, she never validates that fear or writes anything about her experience in college once she gets there. 

As for Teddy.  Beats me.  After the accident, he was injured, but I'm left wondering what ever became of his life.  Also Gerry - what becomes of her life going forward?  And in the beginning there is an uncle Harpo who is their father's brother who pays an unexpected, but very interesting visit and then leaves.  Although he is remembered fondly throughout the book, we are left wondering what the heck happened to him?  Where did he go? 

I enjoyed the story, but I feel like I am left with a lot of unanswered questions.  I tried to contact the author, but could not find any contact information.  So, if she happens to come across this book review, I would love for her to answer some of the hanging questions I have for her story.  I very well could be missing something here, but I have a memory like a steel trap, so I don't think I overlooked anything.  If it was the "unwritten" that I was supposed to grasp, and didn't, then that explains it.

You will enjoy this book.  It is a good summertime read!  If you would like to get a copy, click on any of the book covers you see above for "Hello, I Must Be Going!"


CHRISTIE HODGEN is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC).  She was educated at the University of Virginia (B.A.), Indiana University (M.F.A.) and the University of Missouri-Columbia (Ph.D.). Her novel, Hello, I Must Be Going (Norton 2006), was featured in Barnes and Noble’s Discover Great New Writers series. Her collection of short stories, A Jeweler’s Eye for Flaw (University of Massachusetts Press 2003) won the AWP Award for Fiction and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Georgia Review, Quarterly West, New Stories from the South, and Scribner’s Best of the Fiction Workshops. Her awards include a Pushcart Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, and the Faulkner Society Medal for the Novella.

I give this book  3.5 stars out of 5.


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