"The funniest serious novel since Richard Russo’s Straight Man, rich with the epic levity of John Irving and salted with the perversion of Updike."
- Chicago Sun Times
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. Taking cues from the calamity of The Great Recession, we meet Dale Hammer, a man who is determined to find meaning in a landscape of suburban homogeneity, looking for the moment he had with his own father when they blasted/i>
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. Taking cues from the calamity of The Great Recession, we meet Dale Hammer, a man who is determined to find meaning in a landscape of suburban homogeneity, looking for the moment he had with his own father when they blasted off a rocket on a wintery evening. He feels his son slipping away as he tries to get around “the silent shame of fathers and sons.” He 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.
"The funniest serious novel since Richard Russo’s Straight Man, rich with the epic levity of John Irving and salted with the perversion of Updike."
- Chicago Sun Times
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.
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.
"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
"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.
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.
"The rollicking story of a writer whose piece of the American Dream falls apart.”
"This critically insightful diatribe against conformity is recommended"
- Library Journal
William Elliott Hazelgrove is the bestselling author of three novels, Ripples, Tobacco Sticks, and Mica Highways. His books have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Book-of-the-Month selections, the American Library Association's Editors' Choice Awards, and been 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. Rocket Man was chosen Book of the Year by Books and Authors.net. He runs a political cultural blog, The View From Hemingway's Attic.
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What a gem of a novel: cleverly written, great humor, great characters and a timeless theme. William Elliot Hazelgrove's ROCKET MAN documents one man's mid-life crises as his romantic notions of life as an author clash with the responsibilities of adulthood, jeapardizing his career, his marriage and all of his family relationships. His life is full of engaging, quirky characters and unexpected turns as he compuslively rebels against the responsibilities and conformity of suburban life. Great read!
This one received rave reviews from readers. Frankly, I just couldn't get past Chapter 2. I'm not sure if it was the writing or the fact that I just couldn't stand the main character. Perhaps if I was a man...?
Rocket Man is a Winner! This contemporary novel effectively explores the theme of the quest of the Everyday Man to survive the pressures and conflicts of life in modern day middle-class suburbia without losing his soul.
Rocket Man is a character study of Dale Hammer, a flawed man trying to surviving the angst of middle age, career failure, the needs and demands of his father and family, and the pressure of modern America. At his essence, Dale is desperately unhappy as he struggles to satisfy the needs of his two young children and his wife in this suburban setting, while lacking any affinity with his surroundings. Dale suffers as he attempts to bluff his way through, day after day, hiding his weakness and pain and yearning for a way out.
Dale follows the path set by his Dad, D.T. senior, a modern day Willie Loman, who has spent a lifetime reinventing himself while he moved from failed marriages and jobs to begin anew. Dale senior is also a fraud, but plays a theatrical, larger than life role in this reality show.
Hardhitting dialogue tells the tale and creates empathy for the characters, forcing the reader to share the conflicts experienced by Dale and his Dad. D.T. senior is alternates between pathos and hilarity as he engages his ¿targets¿ with ¿the heavy molasses of a Mississippi accent, speaking like he has a watermelon (pronounced watahmelon) in his mouth.¿
Told with humor and poignancy, Rocket Man is an engaging story that with elements that touch the lives of most readers.
I enjoyed this book very much, both the story and the characters. This story moved ahead very well, at almost a page-turner pace. Scenes, places and characters seemed almost cinematically visualized. The semi-out of control life that the central character, Dale Hammer, leads during this week in his life reminded me of Richard Russo¿s Straight Man, or Thomas McGuane¿s books. The sense that the plot must lead to some critical conjunction of events producing a resolution, either a collapse or a rejuvenation, from this combination of forces that are his current life, builds throughout the book, setting the stage for an expected final resolution or collapse, convergence or destruction.
Characters were fully drawn, distinct and real. Following these characters, a middle-class father unsure whether he is living his own life, and his father and son, was very enjoyable. The father, an author who earns a living as a mortgage broker, has become very uncomfortable with the suburban setting of his life, causing him to antagonize many people encountered in his daily life. His struggle with the external elements in his life slowly becomes an examination of his place in his own life. These characters were so clearly defined and filled in that the book could been much longer, exploring many other parts of these people¿s lives.
I have a complaint, however, possibly due to the fact that I read the ARC. The text had too many proofreading and editing errors that should have been corrected, especially those that any reader would stumble on and that interrupt the flow of the story. For example, sentences that begin and end as two different sentences, either losing all verbs or having too many, were numerous enough to distract me from the story. Some of the errors appear to be transcription mistakes, so that a sound-alike word is substituted for the (supposedly) intended word (tenant instead of tenet, chain mayo instead of chain mail, unless these are metaphors that I did not see) - I am still curious about these. Another comment I have is that I was confused during the first 30 pages or so about the location of Oakland, thinking the family had moved from California. I tried to look back for a reference to Oakland being located in the Chicago area in the earlier pages but couldn¿t find this information. (Possibly my mistake.) My complaint is that this book is very good, but that the less than rigorous editing detracts from the underlying quality.
D.T. Hammer finds himself with too much house in a wonder-bread suburb and simply cannot find a way to cope. He sets about starting a dozen little fires until his entire existence nearly goes up in smoke. Broke, accused of local vandalism, unable to maintain a connection with his son, harboring an abundance of anger toward his father and brother, and meticulously destroying his marriage, D.T. faces the loss of himself, his craft, and his family¿a little bit at time. A middle-of-the-road accomplishment, at turns amusing, at others tedious, this novel is neither a great work or the worst book ever written. Though not fresh enough to stay funny throughout, there are enough chuckles to make it worth a read.
A life of Mc Mansions, residents meetings & school runs is getting Dale Hammer down. "Rocket Man" explores the slow dying of the soul, a life immersed in conformity requires. Though written in Ernest Hemmingway's attic in Oak Park, William Elliott Hazelgrove is not his literary peer yet...
Hazelgrove writes as if he too has succumbed to the suburban doldrums, giving the book authenticity but no heart. "Sunnyside" by Joanna Murray-Smith conveyed the deplorabilty of mass market suburbs with more sophistication and without the need to descend into scenes of ridiculousness. The workings of these areas as demonstrated by Hazelgrove via the Resident's meeting has more than enough realistic idiocy portrayed without the need to heap scenarios for 'laughs' on-board.
Hazelgrove needed to trust his story. Dale Hammer's neighbours more than adequately provide humour to the story with their very seriousness. "Rocket Man" is an enjoyable read written by an intelligent man, showing a view of the world without shoving the moral of the story down your throat. Well worth a look, as I suspect would be Hazelgrove's other works.
William Elliot Hazelgrove's book Rocket Man tells the story of the falling apart life of Dale "D.T." Hammer. He is a washed up novelist who clings to his identity as a writer even though his books are out of print and he is unmotivated to start anything new. His wife is on the verge of divorcing him, his children hate him and his foul-mouthed father has just moved in with them. Meanwhile all of his neighbors shun him for chopping down the sign to their subdivision in the middle of the night - a crime he insists he is innocent of - prompting a police investigation to enter the mix of his messed up life. Dale seeks remedy and redemption in becoming the hero of his son's scout troop by volunteering as Rocket Man - the parent in charge of the toy rocket building and launching for the scouts. Dale sees it as the opportunity to make things right in his family and community, but as other parents hound him for irresponsibility the reader is left to discover whether Dale's mission (and life) will acheive lift off.
The characters in Rocket Man are interestingly drawn. Dale is never particularly likeable, but as a reader I still found myself wishing success for him. It is in the relationships - especially between the three generations of men in the family - that the characters show more depth and development, but I would have enjoyed this book even more if the language had been a little cleaner. The use of swearing was a bit excessive and seemed unnecessary, adding to the unlikeablity of some of the characters.
What I found most appealing about this book, though, was the theme of life in suburbia. Dale's conflict with his surroundings reflects the conflict within himself and vice versa. Even more than being a story about a struggling father, this was a novel about the difference between wealth and value - a lesson that is accurately portrayed as a painful one to learn. I did very much enjoy Hazelgrove's humor in the novel. The situational comedy was unique and I also liked the clever use of NASA and space travel quotes with the chapter titles which served a countdown to the climax of the book and tied the theme of the rocket launch throughout the novel.
I really enjoyed this book! I think it is my favorite early reviewer book I've read. Being younger then the main character in the book I found myself thinking I could be in that sort of position in 20 years, and that I don't want to be. So even though not directly related to me I can still relate to this book a lot. I really liked the humor in this book and found myself suppressing giggles throughout it. I think this book is good for anyone who can really relate to the main character and his sense of humor particularly relating to suburban life. A very enjoyable read!
After receiving this book through LibraryThing Early Reviewers I began reading it right away. I found that I could not stop reading. Hardgrove writes in clear, simple manner that is reminiscent of Hemingway or Steinbeck. His plot is orignal and his character illustration stunning. This is also a fun book that I would highly reccomend to anyone .
I¿ve got ¿Rocket Man¿ as ARC through LibraryThing as well. And as some other people before me ¿ I¿m still not sure if I like it or not.
As you may read in many posts ¿ it¿s a story of 46 years old Dale, who moved his family out from the city, to the ¿land of happiness¿, where the family would bloom. And it happened the opposite ¿ everything is wrong ¿ wife want to divorce, son hates him, his father is kicked by his wife and is moving to live with Dale, Dale has problems with everyone around him ¿ school, neighbors, police¿ He is all the time repeating how much he cares about his relatives and their life, but actually is not able to do anything to change his and his family life for better and to solve the problems.
I liked the plot in the meaning of dealing with ¿American dream¿ and nowadays life. But I didn¿t like half of the characters (mostly the main one) ¿ they were irritating me most of the time ;) I know it could be planned by the author like that, but for me it makes it more difficult to enjoy the book if I¿m irritated most of the time ;) The other thing is the ending ¿ for me this situation is a bit too unrealistic, to see this one moment as a crucial change of the life of the family.
The other thing is the cover ¿ it would not invite me for buying this book. I know it¿s clearly related with the leading theme of the book, but there is plenty of nicer photos to use. But I¿m quite sure the publishers already got the point from other notes about the book and re-considered the cover :)
In general ¿ I liked the book, but without fireworks ;) It¿s ok read for a winter evenings :)
This is a fictional story about the generations of a family and sibling differences. How a patriarch can make his son feel like he is twelve again just being around him. A story filled with quirky and funny happenings as D.T. the second is trying to find his part of the American dream and do something for his son as well, in reestablishing a closer bond between father and son. D.T. the second is looking to rebuild a relationship with his son Dale like it used to be when he was younger. Most fathers wish this for their children as they also chase the American dream. The character of D.T. senior is a traveling salesman. The exchanges between D.T. senior and second who senior calls junior are at time poignant and funny.
Mr. Hazelgrove is an award-winning author of fiction. He was born in Richmond, Virginia. His father was a traveling salesman who moved the family outside of Chicago when Mr. Hazelgrove was fourteen. After college, he held many jobs, such as teacher, baker, and construction worker to name a few. Mr. Hazelgrove finally settled in Oak Grove, Illinois, the home of Earnest Hemingway where he lives today as a full time writer.
This is at times a funny book. Many readers will be able to relate with the character on some level. The characters are well developed and true to life as is the dialogue. Although, some readers may find parts of this book might not be suitable if they take offense to some profanity, even if in the proper context. Rocket Man is a story about the faults within a family in an at times, funny and different way of handling situations and family members. If you are looking for a book to read, Rocket Man is recommended as a better than average read. Try it for yourself and see.
Dale Hammer has the expensive home, the SUV, the corporate wife turned home-maker, and the two children which define the modern American suburban life. Look past the surface, though, and Dale's life looks a little more like a Dali-esque nightmare than the American dream. He can't afford the home because he is an out-of-print author who hasn't published a new novel in several years. Just to pay bills, Dale is brokering mortgages in an already faltering housing market. His wife has given up on him, figuring he is way past any hope of responsible and stable living. She has good reason for such a belief, as Dale has cut down their housing development sign, taken some of the cub scouts in his troop on an alcohol fueled four wheeling adventure, and almost mowed down his son's school crossing guard; that's just in the last week. Just as Dale's life seems completely out of control, his estranged, foul-mouthed, letcherous, and unemployed father takes up residence in his garage.
Dale's attempts to make sense of his life and re-connect with his family seem to fail at every turn. Most conversations with his wife turn into recriminations over their move to suburbia and the growing distance between them. Dale's son is ashamed of him, even as Dale tries to be the typical involved father. And Dale's father, even in the midst of attempts to bed down with one of the neighbors, seems bent on shaming Dale for his choices. Most of the fault, however, lays with Dale himself, as his ego won't allow him to see his own irresponsibility. Dale, always holier than all of his suburban neighbors, refuses to completely accept the suburban construct, always pining for his old edgier, more enlightened lifestyle.
Dale's one chance at redemption with everyone is his role as the "Rocket Man" for the local scout troop. If he can successfully launch all the Scout rockets and avoid his usual disasters, maybe he can gain back some self-respect and win over his son and family. Who knows, he might even avoid arrest for cutting down the housing development sign.
William Elliot Hazelgrove is certainly a creative writer with a keen comedic timing, concocting unlikely situations filled with rich and colorful characters. His storty describe the absurdity of the modern American suburban existence, its contradictions and eccentricities. Hazlegove has an easy style, peppered with Dennis Miller type referential comments which shortcut character descriptions and provide added layers of context to characters. The downside of this style is that Hazelgrove risks losing or confusing readers who aren't in on the references.
My major complaint with the book has to do with the main character and the substance of his plight. Dale was not a likeable character, though maybe he wasn't meant to be. Dale's down the nose view of everyone and everything around him gets pretty old, especially in the face of his difficulty managing his own life, emotions, and problems. If the point of the book was to have Dale find a way to redeem himself, I would have expected him to find the redemption in something other than a final act of reckless defiance in the closing pages of the book. But, Hazelgrove gives Dale this redemption in an act meant to once more ridicule the suburban mentality and culture. While I might not be the picture of suburban bliss, I don't know that I would find all of the values there ridiculous and absurd.
Whoa!!! I really liked this book. There were moments where I was not so sure about it but by the end, I was really impressed.
Dale Hammer is a forty six year old man who bought a house in the suburbs that he obviously can't afford, a writing career that seems permanently stalled, a wife who is most likely leaving him, a son who he fights with often and a father who just moved into the room over his garage. Life is not looking good and Dale quite frankly is not doing much to help the situation. His shocking pig headness is exasperating and there were many moments where I really, really disliked him. His move to the suburbs seems to have triggered a general dissatisfaction with life , supposedly absent when he lived in the city. He is on some sort of teenage rebellion beginning with taking a bizarre shortcut between a vacant field that borders a McDonalds and a Dairy Queen shop while driving home his son's boy scout troop(and drinking a V8 laced with alcohol). In addition,he almost runs over the crossing guard at his son's school. Though in some perverse way I agreed with him, that kind of behavior is just not acceptable for an adult, especially when your son is in the back seat. And on and on he goes with his irrational and generally annoying behavior. He looks at his neighbors and acquintances with absolute contempt, seeing himself as their intellectual superior. At a certain point I was just so annoyed and not sure why I was reading about this immature man who can't get his life together.
One of the things that kept me reading was the hilarious laugh out loud moments that Dale seemed to attract. At one point sheer hilarity was the order of the day especially during his interactions with his father. His references to Gone With The Wind had me laughing uncontrollably. But in all that laughing there is pain and despair. I believe it was Thoreau that said that most men lead lives of quiet desperation and that statement applies perfectly here. His struggles are very timely in America of 2008. He is living the American dream of buy now, pay later. Unfortunately, most of the time when later comes there is no money to pay up. His life exemplifies what many middle class Americans are experiencing.
By the end, I can't say I ended up liking him but I was certainly rooting for him and I wanted things to work out for the sake of his family who obviously love him but are tired of the nonsense. I also understood him better and saw the toll that the rat race can engender. A great read overall.
Rocket Man is a well written satire that anyone who has ever lived in the suburbs can relate to. The weirdness of neighbors, the isolation, the strange sort of politics of Homeowner meanings, it's all there. But what makes this novel really stand out is the main characters journey through the landscape of American culture in the year 2008. Dale Hammer is anyone who has found themselves with a family and living in a suburb and said, like the Talking Heads song, well how did I get here? We find the main character struggling to keep up and at the same time we know he is destined to fail, because he doesn't believe in his life anymore. When his cranky father comes to live over his garage and he ends up being the Rocket Man for his son's Scout Troop, it is just icing on a cake that has already been baked. Dales resolution to his problems is very prescient for us and I wont give away the ending, but I think its where we are all headed. Excellent book. Very entertaining.
Ernest Hemingway made a famous statement about his hometown of Oak Park, Illinois, summing up the Protestant enclave west of Chicago as the place of wide lawns and narrow minds. So it makes sense that another man who is working in Ernest Hemingway's attic should write a novel that takes this concept one step further. This is exactly what William Hazelgrove did in his satircal new novel, Rocket Man, due to be pubished in December. The story revolves around Dale Hammer and his family struggling to keep their home in the conservative suburb they have just moved too. In one week,Dale is accussed of cutting down his subdivision sign, has to take care of his father who has just been thrown out of his house, and run the Rocket Day show for the scouts of his nine year old son. All this comes to a head we have the modern family in motion in the year 2008, complete with threat of losing their home. But what makes this novel resemble Hemingway's famous quote is the exposing of suburban values in the year of our demise. We see the perfect people with the large homes and the large cars and we see this family that does not fit into that mold. In a broad statement on the state of the American Dream, Hazelgrove lets us experience his main characters social isolation, the utter futility of trying to keep up this super life and it is no surprise that he can't keep up his payments. Sound familiar? It should. Rocket Man is a direct mirror of what is going on in America now. A population with a collective hangover from twenty years of massive consumerism. The chickens come home to roost for Dale and his family the way they are coming home to roost for us. The resolution of this novel is not surprising, yet it does offer hope and maybe a better way to live.
...and in ROCKET MAN Hazelgrove manages to capture the transcendent, heart-wrenching and soul-rending quality of a man leading just this kind of life, a life that will be familiar to many entering or moving through mid-life 'I count myself among them'. Great writers write what they know, and the life of Dale Hammer, ROCKET MAN's conflicted protagonist, is achingly real. It is clear to the reader that Hazelgrove has gone for broke here, placing all of his emotional cards on the table for everyone to see, Hammer's messy, messy life a proxy for all those who look back over the landscape of their lives and see every wrong turn, every slip of the foot, every mistake, in clear relief -- yet are unable to change their course or trajectory for knowing. The supporting characters -- among them Dale's old school Southern good ole' boy father and his long-suffering lawyer wife, the many stick-up-the-bum white upper class suburbanites who appear to struggle with the alien in their midst who refuses to follow even their most basic of rules -- go along to get along -- and the various white trash refugees that flit in and out of Dale's day-to-day life and world like so many gnats -- at times exhibit affectations of caricature, yet within the context of the story this is neither jarring nor awkward. In fact, these characters are the icing on an already-rich cake. Hazelgrove also manages an ending that, while slightly abrupt -- part of me wasn't ready to let this character go just yet -- and upon reflection somewhat too-tidy, feels right. Just as life's twists and turns, the unpredictable eddies that move us about while shattering the illusion that we are actually in control of anything in our lives, sometimes -- though not often -- lead to quiet resolution, so too does Dale Hammer arrive at a comfortable detente with the forces of his unpredictable and out-of-control life. Perhaps I was able to make peace with this ending, the book overall for that matter, because of where I am in my life, wanting and hoping that occasionally I'll make the RIGHT decisions and go the RIGHT direction and say the RIGHT thing at the RIGHT time...all while being able to hold onto at least a little of the spirit and essence of what it was to be young and indestructible. And in that lies the key to what makes this book so relevant and engaging to the 'mass of men' -- and a potential best-seller.
I was so absorbed by Rocket Man all weekend and finished it last night. I loved it. It was thematically so easy for me to relate to, how to be a good parent and a good spouse and live my own life with exhaustion, high reactivity and all of the internal and external stresses of middle age. There is so much more to say, but I wanted to let you know how engaging, fun, hilarious and bittersweet it was...truly terrific.