Rocket Man

Rocket Man

5.0 1
by William Elliott Hazelgrove

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Rocket Man is a very funny and poignant comment on our times, when an upside down middle class is barely hanging onto the American dream. We meet Dale Hammer, who becomes the Rocket Man for his sons scout troop and immediately his life implodes. Accused of cutting down the subdivision sign to his neighborhood, he becomes the lone rebel, going down in a

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Rocket Man is a very funny and poignant comment on our times, when an upside down middle class is barely hanging onto the American dream. We meet Dale Hammer, who becomes the Rocket Man for his sons scout troop and immediately his life implodes. Accused of cutting down the subdivision sign to his neighborhood, he becomes the lone rebel, going down in a flaming arc. When Rocket Day comes, Dale is determined to give his son more than his father gave him.


Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

This book's artist hero, writer Dale Hammer, does battle with the benighted conformity of bourgeois suburban culture. Saddled with a house and life he can't afford, Dale has alienated his wife and family through trying to have his cake and eat it, too. Dale, in a word, is unhappy. His talent has been slowly suffocating. He can no longer write, his three novels far behind him, the product of a different life. He is reduced to brokering mortgages for a living, but even this ignominious day job is slowly evaporating with the housing market's decline. Dale's incisive narration of his rebellion against his stagnating life is the constant engine that drives this story. As his life crumbles around him, all seems lost for Dale, but he is inspired to an ultimate act of defiance that redeems him. The descriptions of this writer's life are funny and meaningful. However, the tidy ending after so much domestic chaos may be a bit unbelievable. This critically insightful diatribe against conformity is recommended for larger libraries.
—Henry Bankhead

From the Publisher
"The rollicking story of a writer whose piece of the American Dream falls apart.”
Chicago Tribune

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.87(d)

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Meet the Author

William Elliott Hazelgrove is the best-selling author of three novels, Ripples, Tobacco Sticks and Mica Highways. His books have received starred reviews in Publisher Weekly, Book of the Month Selections, ALA Editors Choice Awards and optioned for the movies. He was the Ernest Hemingway Writer in Residence where he wrote in the attic of Ernest Hemingway’s birthplace. He has written articles and reviews for USA Today and other publications.  His latest novel Rocket Man was chosen Book of the Year by Books and He has been the subject of interviews in NPR’s All Things Considered along with features in The New York Times, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, Richmond Times Dispatch, USA Today, People, Channel 11, NBC, WBEZ, WGN. He runs a political cultural blog, The View From Hemingway’s Attic.

Read an Excerpt



My father is a traveling salesman, that peculiar brand of Willy Loman that actually loves
the natural flight of American selling. When I was a boy, I thought of him as a man who
appeared on Fridays when we had a steak and ice cream for dessert. After dinner, my father
would watch whatever football game was on television and fall asleep with his mouth open,
tie loosened, hand over his brow as if he had just finished one hell of a race. I usually waited
until he woke to tell him of my latest achievement and show him my banana bike and
collection of baseball cards. This was just before he ran for his car, briefcase in hand, and
waved away another week.

But there was one time I remember where I had him all to myself. For Christmas, my
parents had given me an Estes Rocket Set. It was an amazing toy with a launcher, rocket
engines, and the giant Saturn V Rocket that had conquered the moon a decade before. I
stayed up late gluing the white fuselage together, packing the parachute, and inserting the
four D engines.

The day after Christmas, my father and I crunched through frozen mud to the middle of a
field painted by the low sun. He kept his hands in his pockets while I carried the rocket and
the launcher packed with batteries. Twilight simmered beyond the big pines and thin blue
snow dusted the ground.

I put the launcher down and stretched the wires to the control pad. My Saturn V rocket
was a beast. It took four D engines with two parachutes and four wadded sheets to keep the
ejection charge from burning the chute up.

"Looks like we are launching Apollo 11," my father murmured while I threaded the Saturn
V onto the launch wire.

I connected the igniter wires.. All four engines had to ignite or my Saturn V would go off
at a crazy angle and heave into the ground. I checked the igniters and made sure they were
shoved far up into the engines. My dad stamped his feet and kept his hands in his pockets.
"You think this thing will go, boy?"

I looked at him smoking a Pall Mall, his long Brooks Brothers coat waving.
"Think so."

"So this is what you do all week while I'm gone, boy?"

"Well, hurry up, boy. It's going to be dark soon."

I turned and walked back to the launch control and inserted the key. The light glowed

"You might move back, Dad."

He looked over and snuffed the cigarette out, crunching through the weeds He was
already looking at the distant cars on the highway, thinking about his next appointment,
gassing up, and pointing that company car back to the highway. He turned back and nodded
to me.

"Well, blast it off, boy."

I stared at my Saturn V, a colossus of white and black with USA going up the side in red
letters. I began to count down.

"Five, four, three, two, one…"

I pressed the button on my launcher as the ready light flickered out. There was the slight
hiss of the sulfur igniters, and for a moment the rocket didn't move. Then the four D engines
caught fire and whoosh! The fire bent out and burned the weeds below the launcher and
suddenly the Saturn V was gone. A fiery tail burned high up in the cold sky as the rocket
leaned over slightly and left a white vapor trail across the early stars.

"Jesus Christ!"

My father continued staring up while I stamped out the weed fire. The ejection charge
fired, then the chutes blossomed, but I could see the Saturn V had gone too high for the wind
and the time of day. It was getting dark, and that rocket was sailing fast into the west, a white
satellite against a darkening blue palate.

"I'll be goddamned," he muttered, shaking his head. "Boy, that sonofabitch really flew."
I put my hand up and saw the Saturn V drifting away, a gold colossus hanging by four

"Aren't you going after it, boy?"

I shook my head solemnly.

"No, it's gone," I muttered, watching the rocket drift past the field. "There's too much

"You sure about that?"


My father kept his neck craned to the sky, then put his hands on my shoulders. And that's
what I remember. I think it was the only time we were really together, watching that rocket
disappear into the coal sky.

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