First novel about a man badly scarred in Vietnam, and scarred by it, who at last begins recovery.
Howard Kapostash can only grunt, so he carries a card explaining his condition: he is of normal intelligence but can’t speak, read, or write. His emotional IQ has always lagged behind, however, and his war experiences have aggravated the problem. He’s still vaguely in love with his high-school sweetheart, Sylvia, even though her life is one of incompetent motherhood and addiction. When Sylvia’s sister forces her into rehab, Howard is pressed into taking care of Sylvia’s nine-year-old son, Ryan, a surly, wounded, and uncommunicative child with whom Howard has only a passing relationship. Living with him now, though, in the house where Howard once lived with his own emotionally wounded parents, a father-son relationship begins to grow. They share the house, without intimacy or much cordiality, with a Vietnamese-American soup-maker, Laurel, and with the house painters Steve and Harrison, whom Howard calls Nit and Nat. Howard buys Ryan a baseball glove, takes him to the fights, attends his school play. Gradually, emotional barriers fall, and, as the rehab stretches into to weeks, the five become a family, for the first time caring for one another’s well being. Howard, paterfamilias-like, even lends Harrison a suit to attend his father’s funeral. Then Sylvia returns, a new lover in tow, and Howard, after years of disappointment and just weeks of hope, is reduced to a bearlike existence. He lashes out at the new couple in an effort to protect his young and his family, violence that brings him a brief sanitarium sojourn. But the tide has turned. Howard slowly regains his humanity, his emotional life begins unfolding, and his newfound family begins to come back together.
When he shrugs off the heavy overcoat of writing program metaphors—a ha-ha is a boundary wall concealed in a ditch, it is explained—King will be a writer to watch.