Picks and Pans Review: The Ha-Ha

updated 02/07/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/07/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

By Dave King
NOVEL

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In the 30 years since a Vietnamese land mine robbed him of the ability to speak, write or read, Howard Kapostash, the narrator of King's first novel, has abandoned any hope for meaningful connection. Speech therapy was awash, so he communicates with gestures, guttural sounds and a business card that reads: "Please remember: I am of normal intelligence!" Howard's routine includes mowing lawns, coexisting with boarders in his childhood home and pining for Sylvia, his high school sweetheart. Sylvia, unfortunately, cares more for cocaine and is being shipped off to rehab, leaving her 9-year-old son Ryan with Howard, the only reliable person she knows.

There are a few Lifetime moments as Howard and his housemates open their hearts to the sullen boy, but this compelling novel is hardly simplistic. Howard may have the heartwarming realization that he can participate in Little League ("for a mime, umpiring might be the world's easiest job"), but his years of severe isolation can also cause him to erupt with frightening violence. At times King overplays Howard's volatility, but in the end he draws a noble portrait of a wounded man.

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