Fithian Press, 2002
ISBN 1-56474-386-1

Who hasn't read that novels written as letters or diary entries don’t 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 Goddard’s 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 Goddard’s 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.
         Their shared 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 most—the 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 Goddard’s support, Le creates a stunning short story about her experiences in Vietnam; it is soon accepted for publication in the university’s literary arts journal. Theirs is an unimpeachable triumph—or it should have been.
         But Goddard can’t 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 overturned—and to keep Le enrolled in college—comprises the bulk of Never Fade Away.
         Surprisingly, 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 Goddard’s voice, though convincing, feels forced to this reader. But he is a prickly character with not a few thorns in his personality; perhaps the author’s 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.
         Mr. Hart’s 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 journal’s dreamscape, but the reader’s 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 reader’s mind at its conclusion.
         Never Fade Away is an excellent showcase for William Hart’s apparent talent and obvious compassion, and will be enjoyed by anyone who has ever questioned the verity of a leader’s vision.