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A mid-summer night’s read

Dave King’s ‘The — Ha-Ha’ is good for a warm evening

“The Ha-Ha” is Dave King’s remarkable debut novel. Written in the first person, his unlikely protagonist is Howard Kapostash. Severely wounded in Vietnam when a mine exploded, he lost the ability to speak. Hence, much of the novel is composed of Howard’s reactions, his metal peregrinations, plus the one-sided conversations that people have with him. All he can manage when responding to others, besides hand gestures, are a few muted sounds. He has never learned to sign. When in a tight spot he hands out a card that tells folks that he is intelligent and only lacks the ability to speak.

The struggle Kapostash faces is that he has a great deal to say about his life; yet, not surprisingly, he’s chosen to remain a silent spectator. But his carefully wrought place of retreat, of comfort and safety, is challenged when he takes a young boy, Ryan, whose mother is an old flame and a drug addict, into his home and heart. It turns out to be a decision fraught with unintended and life affirming consequences.

Howard lives in a big, rambling house filled with boarders, a house where he grew up, the rooms, the backyard still filled with childhood memories. He often reflects on the day he was wounded, his long recovery, then coming home from the war, believing he would never be able to function, never walk without a mass of tics, or be able to work. His job, like most of his life, is solitary: he is a gardener for a convent and spends his days mowing and trimming the extensive grounds. Nothing has prepared him for the push into life that he’s given by the small boy.

This is a fine, well written book. The ha-ha, used by King in the title, is a metaphor that becomes central to the story, one that captures the alienation Howard feels to his very core. But wall by wall, the barriers of his life begin to crumble. At times it’s a fearful and tormenting prospect.

“The Ha-Ha” makes for a nicely rendered summer read about a flawed man who finds the courage to live again. Howard Kapostash is a character, for all of his silence, for all of his inner struggles, that you will be sorry to leave.