hasn't read that novels written as letters or diary entries dont
work? Lacking depth, some sniff. Boring, criticasters complain
with a roll of the eyes.
That view and
other, similarly unwarranted prejudices are successfully dissembled
by both the form and content of Never Fade Away, the first
novel from accomplished poet William Hart.
Tina Le is the
uncut gem in John Goddards remedial-level freshman English
course. At once naïve and wizened, Le, who is still adjusting
to strange American ways after escaping communist-ruled Vietnam,
proves herself to be Goddards adversary and accomplice in
this well-told battle of wits. Goddard, a depthful man still filled
to overflowing with the pain of a scalding war that no one won,
dares to challenge college provisions that seem destined to turn
gifted and promising foreign students into dropouts.
conflagration is unwitting. In twin journals whose contents Mr.
Hart gently splices, Goddard and Le report their small victories
and dismembered dreams. Goddard tells us of his frustration at
being unable to help students in the ways they need it mostthe
ways he is most prepared to give. Le writes of her struggle to
master the ever-puzzling English language in time for a final
exam. She speaks of a writing teacher who shows her, and others
like her, where they may succeed instead of pinning them with
the stigma of pre-determined defeat. With Goddards support,
Le creates a stunning short story about her experiences in Vietnam;
it is soon accepted for publication in the universitys literary
arts journal. Theirs is an unimpeachable triumphor it should
But Goddard cant
single-handedly defeat a system mired in person hypocrisy and
curriculum-wide deception. When his students are given an overly
confusing final exam question by the smirking administration,
Goddard passes two students on the merits of their earlier work.
The story of his struggle to keep the passing grades from being
overturnedand to keep Le enrolled in collegecomprises
the bulk of Never Fade Away.
Mr. Hart is at his most convincing when writing with the voice
of Tina Le. Her slowly evolving grammatical skills, the awakening
of her sexuality, and her confusion at American customs and conventions
make for compelling reading. John Goddards voice, though
convincing, feels forced to this reader. But he is a prickly character
with not a few thorns in his personality; perhaps the authors
need to keep a distance between his protagonist and readers forces
a certain flatness. On closer inspection, that choice, if in fact
it was intentional, suggests both discipline and fire in a mine
still ravaged by unutterable terrors.
style is active, fresh, and purposeful. If the book is to be faulted,
it is for an ending that trails rather than stops. That, too,
may be an inevitable consequence of walking through a journals
dreamscape, but the readers still-burgeoning interest in
Le and Goddard demands a definitive conclusion. What shall be
come of me? is the question that resonates throughout the book;
it is only appropriate that it is the question imprinted on the
readers mind at its conclusion.
Away is an excellent showcase for William Harts apparent
talent and obvious compassion, and will be enjoyed by anyone who
has ever questioned the verity of a leaders vision.