Talk about turmoil. Pity Haskell Hodge.
In Gary Seigel’s new novel Haskell Himself, Haskell Hodge is growing up during the “best years of life,” smack dab in the middle of the sexual revolution, is highly intelligent, and well on his way to a promising career as an actor. Still, what many would see as opportunity, Haskell sees as an inconvenience at best, a horror at worst.
Why all the angst?
For starters, he lives in a time bridging dunce caps, sock hops, and piano lessons with the Hippie movement and Vietnam protests. The reader finds Haskell in high school, a place so cruel that even the girls ridicule him. At one point, he learns he was named after an LA freeway off-ramp, at least as “as far as [his father] can recollect.”
“Change is difficult for you,” his mother observes. So naturally, she forces change on him.
When a faux psychic named Madame Scheherazade tries reassuring him in a stumbling manner after spilling the beans on his mother, who is about to relegate him to relatives, she ends up inadvertently giving him an accurate prediction (in the vaguest of terms, naturally) and good advice as he begins his true adventure: life.
And there is the major rub: Haskell is gay at a time when being so was as destructive as one could endure. Although his sexuality simmers for a time, Haskell devotes much of his time trying to “drive the homo out of me” and wonders why “my brain [is] so miswired?”
Haskell always looks to please or at least placate those around him, including a younger cousin named Hope, a girl who goes out of her way to torment him. Then there is his absentee father, a producer of low-quality movies that rip off others’ work while making a slew of money. His Hollywood connections bring Haskell to a starring role as Demetrius Kapadopolus, a name as ridiculous as his former neighbor, Mrs. Markowitz, appropriating the moniker of Madame Scheherazade.
One saving grace of his adolescence is Uncle Ted, who tries to aid Haskell’s navigation through both public high school after private school and into California after New York. However, as well intentioned as his uncle may be, his advice is a litany of slogans and platitudes—an accurate depiction of the times Haskell finds himself trapped in—and adults in general.
However, as the girl he hopes will prove to himself that he’s straight tells him, “You can’t take the you out of you.”
Once Haskell understands that, he is prepared for whatever might lay in front of him as he moves forward, a task made easier by the very mother who exits at the start of the book but enters just in time.
As far as the writing goes, there are two standout things about this novel deserving mention. The first is how adept Seigel is at capturing the physical reactions to emotional upheaval as Haskell make his move from the East coast to the West and likewise through the time span covered.
The other aspect of this book is that this book closes with one hell of a last line.
Delve into the mind of Haskell Hodges: the journey is worth it.
by Gary Seigel
Paperback: 329 pages
Publisher: Acorn Publishing (January 2, 2020)