HALF THE HOUSE by Richard Hoffman


A Memoir
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 This memoir is most effective when it recounts the horrors of a childhood of fear, sexual abuse, and the illness and death of siblings. Hoffman grew up in the 1950s in Allentown, Penn., where his father worked at a variety of blue-collar jobs. His recollection of his childhood carefully avoids adult retrospective analysis. Thus, when younger brothers Mike and Bob are stricken with muscular dystrophy, it is recounted with a 10-year-old's perspective and grasp of the medical arcana. Both boys were wheelchair-bound, and the family's resources and attention were completely devoted to them. Hoffman's father installed ramps and renovated a downstairs room, rigging ``an ugly cast-iron derrick which transferred [them] from bed to wheelchair to commode.'' Frustrated, and given to drink, the father would rage and weep: ``He was the man I loved and the man I feared,'' writes the author. When his baseball coach, who lured him with his collection of pornographic comic books, repeatedly sodomized him, Hoffman was afraid to tell his father. He recalls gnawing on his arm until it bruised, chasing away the sexual visions conjured by his confused little boy's imagination. In 1990, five years after his mother's death, Hoffman, who had battled drugs and drink, returned home to tell his father about the baseball coach and to explain how much hurt and anger and fear his father's whippings and inattention had caused. Hoffman brandishes a metal spatula similar to the one he'd been spanked with. After his father admits pushing away memories of the two sons who have died, Hoffman waves a picture of himself at the crying man: ``What about this boy? . . . Do you remember him?'' A wonderfully written and heart-wrenchingly sad debut. But the timing and self-serving nature of the confrontation with his father seems merely cruel and has all the logic and cathartic profundity of a 10-minute segment with Oprah or Geraldo.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-15-100174-X
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1995