Is Harvey Dunne?
The relentless, frigid blizzard of discrimination blew into my world and changed it forever. My two lives finally collided in a soul-twisting crash, and catapulted me into the challenge of my life. I was now dealing with the wreckage.
Imagine waking up every day to a contradiction, looking in the mirror and not liking who you see. Not understanding how you evolved into the person who returns your stare, and wondering if you have the courage to go back to the beginning, to rewind your life. You pray for the strength to change.
You know the man in the mirror is just an illusion. Now you just need to figure out how to change him back.
Harvey Dunne has spent a lifetime searching for acceptance in a world very skilled at conformity. He is desperate for approval – from those he knows and those he doesn’t, from his own family, and even from himself. How far will Harvey go to earn his rightful place in the world, and will he even be able to recognize what that rightful place is? He must choose between truth and deceit, peace and turmoil, love and hate, and he’s not sure he can overcome the challenges that face him.
Is Harvey Dunne? is a novel about braving the malicious storm of prejudice. It is about not only the arduous search sometimes required to find ourselves, but the challenge of acceptance, both from ourselves and others, we must face once we get there.
Is Harvey Dunne? – My Favorite Novel of ’08 – Is Out
My friend K.L Romo is an amazing author, so I just wanted to share this good news. She’s worked long and hard on this novel, and I want everyone to know how amazing it is. So, below this section, I will be reposting the review that will be going on every writing/book website Is Harvey Dunne? will be appearing on. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—Is Harvey Dunne? is one of the most amazing things I have ever read, if not the most amazing book I’ve ever read.
People, particularly writers, are going to reflect back on their year, especially on what books they read. What I consider to be the most amazing book I read this year (or at all, for that matter) isn’t on the bestseller list, and it’s most likely you don’t even know her name yet.
The novel is called Is Harvey Dunne?, and its author is K.L Romo.
Having published her novel on the website Smashwords.com, I doubt I would’ve come across her had she not emailed me. She emailed me saying that she had downloaded one of my novels, then said that she had a novel as well and invited me to take a look at it. I normally don’t respond to such requests, much less begin to read them. But something about Harvey Dunne drew me to it. Maybe it was because it was like some of the other stuff I’ve been writing lately, or maybe it was because of its powerful opening paragraph that begins with, ‘Sometimes you don’t know something, really know, until it slaps you in the face and knocks you down.’
Is Harvey Dunne is, obviously, about a young man named Harvey Dunne. We are first introduced to him in the courtroom, when he is about to either lose or gain partial custody of his children. What follows is a dramatic, emotionally-powerful retelling of what lead Harvey to this point.
It all starts when he’s eight years old, when he’s trying to be the most normal child he can. Of course, a child who likes to cook and watch his mother sew over play baseball and run around with his father is not normal, especially in the nineteen-fifties. For this reason, Harvey’s father pressures him into baseball. He does this for several long years, despite the fact that Harvey can’t play.
Then, out of nowhere, something happens, something that changes Harvey’s life–something that goes beyond the scope of what happened with a friend when he was a pubescent twelve-year-old, or what he experienced when he was thirteen. When Harvey is fourteen, he has a run-in with a seventeen-year-old counselor at the baseball camp named Doug. This chance encounter turns Harvey’s life upside down, for what could be considered the worst. That is, until Harvey decides to ‘bury’ himself, after a friend experiences hellish mental torture due to the same thing Harvey is going through.
When K.L Romo emailed me with the offering of her novel, Is Harvey Dunne?, I wasn’t sure what to expect, much less literary fiction. Usually I don’t care for literary fiction, but Harvey Dunne drew me in with the first paragraph. There’s not a whole lot I can say about the novel, other than the fact that it is, in my opinion, one of the most amazing things I’ve ever read. Its characterization is religiously powerful, so much that I was actually stirred by each thing that happened to the people I was following. Its story is breathtaking, with the amount of thought-provoking events that challenges its reader to fully look into themselves. And, most importantly, its message is one that, sadly, not everyone is able to comprehend, much less accept for something that is true.
If not the most amazing book that I have read in the year of 2008, Is Harvey Dunne? is the most amazing book I’ve ever read. I closed the book with sadness, only because I knew it would no longer continue.
Read A Sample:
Chapter 1 October 29, 1988
Sometimes you don’t know something, really know, until it slaps you in the face and knocks you down. You might have suspicions, and fear, but not until reality’s grip tightens around your neck and shakes you with a mighty force are you sure of what the truth is.
I’m terrified of losing my kids. The custody hearing which will decide the fate of my two children is only three days away. My life seems to hover in slow motion, a limbo that I had hoped might end when I finally revealed the truth about myself, emerged from the cocoon of fear and shame that had silenced me for most of my precarious life.
I’d worked my fingers to the bone to prove to the world, and I guess to myself, that I could be a winner. But sacrifice came with that success. I’d become a human sacrifice, relinquishing all honesty, my own identity, to be normal. Somewhere in the course of the years, in the midst of the web of lies I’d spun, I lost myself. A high price to pay.
Then, the burden had finally become too great, my conscience weary from carrying such a massive load. I owed it to my wife and kids. My God, I owed it to myself. Instead of slowly seeping from my manufactured life, the truth burst from my lips, the cork no longer able to contain the secrets inside. Blurted like an obscenity for all the world to hear, and fear, and run from.
I’d been a prisoner of myself.
It should have been a relief, coming clean to the world, after all those painful years filled with secrets in the dark and the deception that had become all too easy. Not hiding anymore; a prisoner released.
Instead it’s been a nightmare. I’d just moved from one set of shackles to another.
Three days to D-Day – my court day. Our court day. Louise is suing me for sole custody, and I am countersuing for joint custody. Happiness and agony both see-saw around November 1, battling for control, for victory. I wait in a dark tunnel, looking at the date. Feeling that I’ll never get there, but at the same time, being scared to get there.
So I sit in my empty apartment with a glass of Jack Daniels in my hand, my loyal companion, looking into the brightness of the fire. The scene of a good commercial. I am once again trapped in the vicious circle of searching for who I am, and trying to figure out what will happen in my life. Harvey Dunne, the successful accountant. Harvey Dunne, the divorcee without his children.
Harvey Dunne, the successful failure.
I’m losing it all. Whoever said honesty was so great?
Staring into the flames, I see the blurry rerun of my life, the sparks igniting all the pain and confusion of growing up. I wonder who in the Master Plan chose which children would have to bear a burden such as mine, to grow up this way? Surely it was a random selection, a careless game of Russian roulette played on a universal scale. A careless mistake. Surely no Loving Power would inflict this nightmare on a child intentionally?
I know where my life has been. I not only see it but can still feel it, every morsel of anxiety and shame. Hiding where I thought no one could find me; hiding for forty-two years. I’d spent the majority of my adult life trying to determine when I’d passed the point of no return. But then one day it just dawned on me, like the light of elemental knowledge being plugged into my brain, shining a universal truth: There was never a point in time I could have turned back.
I just always was.
Chapter 2 My Life – 1954
In 1954, everything was black or white. At least for most of the world. But not to a nerdy kid like me. I was a fair-skinned, freckle-faced boy of eight with an asinine cowlick in the middle of my forehead. A kid who passionately loved to play the piano, probably the only thing that I was really ever good at in my life. It was a natural talent, a skill I picked up very easily, and ran with. And I was a boy who loved to read, and would get lost in those stories of adventure, and pretend I was the masculine hero I would read about on the pages. A kid who had a whole life of opportunity just waiting around the corner for him, or so all my aunts and uncles told me as they pinched my cheeks. My parents professed to the world that I was the persona of normal, apple-pie Americana. I always wondered guiltily why this was so important to them, secretly knowing they were wrong. But in their heart of hearts, I think they had some reservations about me even then. Something nagged at the pits of their stomachs that they just couldn’t place, but I’m sure it got its start with my unusual interests – so odd for a boy of eight.
I loved to sit and watch my mother sew. She could create masterpieces with a needle and thread, a Michelangelo of the Singer world. In those days, it was especially fashionable to make your own clothes, a woman’s self expression of the times. And she loved to make herself pretty dresses, the kind Mrs. Cleaver wore in Leave It to Beaver, but with her own personal twist. She embroidered a small angel on each of the lapels; her own assurance that her guardian angel would watch over her every day. (To this day, every time I see the image of an angel, I think of her.) Mom would get so involved in her sewing, pinning the material to her mannequin and making all the right adjustments. I would just sit and watch her, and marvel at how she could fit all those pieces together so perfectly. Mom was a perfectionist, and I constantly wondered how this concern with the meticulous had seemed to always miss me. I never could figure out why I was such an uncoordinated klutz.
After the piano, cooking was my passion. I begged Mom to let me make cookies, the chewy peanut butters with the Hershey kisses on top. Mom always loved the idea of me helping her in the kitchen; she had always dreamed of having a little girl. Of course, when Dad ended up with two boys, he was ready to stop. I guess the joke was on him. Although Mom had never gotten her girl, I usually did a pretty good job of filling-in – I guess I was the next best thing. But Dad sure wasn’t very pleased, always telling Mom that she was making a sissy out of me (as if I’d had a choice), and always reminding me of the things I should be doing instead. I could spend all afternoon measuring and mixing, and having a great time. I never even gave a thought to the activities I was supposed to do, and expected to do. My father would sit quietly in his recliner, simultaneously reading the paper and listening to the news, and casually glance at me now and then, his disappointment plastered across his forehead. And he definitely never smiled during my escapades in the kitchen, his granite jaw remaining in the don’t-push-me-I’ve-had-it position. I baked so much the summer after second grade that I could make better cookies than Mom. She was awfully proud of this fact, and so was I.
My dad wasn’t.
Truth be told, I’d been a constant source of irritation for my father, the John Wayne of Enderby Street. He was the All-American male. Dad had always been perplexed with my interests, in specific and in general. His male ego would cringe at witnessing me at my favorite pastimes. As soon as my piano music filled the house, his bedroom door would immediately close.
My older brother James was a great guy, following right into Dad’s footsteps, leaving me to watch from a far distance. He knew it, my parents knew it, and the world knew it. And believe me, I knew it. We were only three years apart chronologically, but light years apart in every other way. He was already the Greek idol of my life, my measuring stick for personal worth for many years to come, though I didn’t hold it against him. He was just one of those people for whom everything works out well, the predestined chips always falling into all the right places. I, on the other hand, had apparently been born running the race to the masculinity goal backwards.
My dad could sure see the difference in the two of us. He never told me this in so many words, but the perplexed look he frequently wore let me know easily enough, and I knew he wondered where he’d gone wrong.
But that was O.K. Often enough, I wondered the same thing.
Even at the young age of eleven, James was a great athlete. The best. He could pass, and catch, and kick. The words coordination and talent radiated from him like a neon sign. I, on the other hand, thought it a miracle just to catch a ball one out of ten times. I think all of the athletic genes accidentally ended up with James, and there were none left over for me. It wasn’t that I was particularly scared of the ball, although I must admit I never enjoyed having a football wedged between my nostrils, but it just slipped right through my fingers every time. Every time. My breadbasket did most of the catching for me – it was a larger area to hit than my outstretched hands. Needless to say, my father knew then, when I was eight, that he’d have to struggle to get me to fit in. Little did he know, though, what a terrible struggle it would be. Especially for me.
James had always wondered what to do with me too. I think he felt sorry for me, and protective, and disgusted, all at the same time. The emotional triangle that constantly permeated my life. When he’d walk into the room and see me reading a book, he’d gently punch me in the arm and call for a game of catch.
“Come on, Harv. We need to practice on your throws. You’ve got to get them down before you start playing teams at school.”
He and I both knew that my arm acted like a wet noodle when it came to throwing a ball. Gumby would have been better at it than me.
“But James, you know I can’t throw a ball. I can’t even catch one. All it does is make me mad.” And James mad, for that matter.
He gave me the look.
“Harvey, all I know is, you stay in the house too much. All the other kids your age are always outside playing, while you’re in here, either playing the piano, or reading. Or making cookies,” he said, with his usual edge. “You need to be outside with them, playing something. Anything. Now come on. Go get your glove.”
I would lackadaisically retrieve my glove, as stiff as it always was and would remain. Anything to fit in, I thought.
At least I was happy that he wanted to spend time with me, even if it was on his terms. My idol up to that point. I loved James, and would never intentionally do anything to
make him angry. I really wanted to please him, suffering through countless hours of dropped catches and wild throws, just to see the acceptance on his face, the smile that appeared when I occasionally caught the ball (of course, quite by accident). I didn’t care about the ball, but I did care about James.
Looking back, I know that James was really just trying to help me adjust. Maybe my dad put him up to it; maybe he just did it out of concern. I don’t know. But I do realize one thing now – at that time, I didn’t know just how important fitting-in would one day be. How much it would mean to me and to my later life. Eight-year-olds aren’t yet equipped with the intuition of the crystal ball. But school yards are brimming with a cruelty that should only be reserved for the adult world, as if it didn’t already have enough.
In the following years, I would come to know it quite well. But my one saving grace was Kathleen.
* * * * *
“Come on, Harvey. Be serious.” The command Kathleen would frequently bark as we played in her driveway on the hot afternoon asphalt and in the cool evening breezes. Two peanuts in a shell. Kathleen Turrelli was my down-the-street neighbor, and my self-professed best friend, much to my father’s chagrin. We spent hours making up stories and acting them out, our personal expressions of our early views on life. We proudly referred to them as plays.
“Harvey, if you’re gonna be a knight, you better act like a knight. You have to act like you’re real strong and not scared of anything.”
I was running around the sword as it twirled in its place on the cement, more a balancing tool than anything else. “Well, what do knights do? I mean, how do they act? I know I’ve never met one. Have you?”
Kathleen’s eyes were in her habitual squint position, and her lips were pursed together. Her exasperated look, which she wore frequently when she was with me. But that of course is what I had been trying to do – frustrate Kathleen. It was nice to be able to affect her that way.
Her hand went to her hip in that see-it-all-know-it-all way I loved so much. “Everyone knows how knights are supposed to act,” she answered, with her head cocked to one side, seriously wondering if I’d had my head buried in the sand and had just dug my way out. “Brave and handsome,” was her official answer.
“But why can’t this one act different? Why do all the knights have to be the same? I wanna be a silly knight.” I knew what would come from her lips next, but it felt good to yank her chain just a little bit harder anyway.
“Harvey, don’t be a doofus. Knights all have to be the same. They all do. That’s just the way it is.” And that was that. Her vision of the world, at least when she was eight. How little did she know that those few words were a prophesy to our future, and the prophesy to the struggle my identity would have for the majority of my life. Have to be the same. Have to be the same. The refrain that would be sung over and over again in my world.
I guess the joke was on me.
“Now go over there and act like you’re gonna kill a dragon, then save the beautiful princess and marry her. I’m the princess,” she added matter-of-factly, as if it were
plainly obvious. I just stood there and stared at her, my feet cemented to the driveway, and she just looked at me as if the nut police would snatch me at any minute. Everything had to be perfect for her, in its proper place and proper order. “Harvey, please!”
And I would ultimately do what she asked, although slowly, as a pouting child grudgingly minds its mother.
But even through our tug-of-war charades, Kathleen and I were best friends. I somehow managed to get along with her better than any of the boys in my class. She was more fun. Plays and make-believe were much more appealing to me than studying the strategies of baseball and army men. And she loved to listen to me practice the piano – something no boy would ever want to do, or at least admit to.
My dad stayed in a constant state of frustration over our friendship, a mood from which he seemed either unable, or unwilling, to shake himself, although I could never figure out which. He was the General George Patton of my life. A man’s man. And a real man did not play with girls.
Oh, well. I already knew I wouldn’t pass the test any time soon anyway.
In spite of my father, Kathleen and I were pretty much inseparable. Together, day in and day out. Until, of course, fate would one day turn our individual hopes and dreams in opposite directions.
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