Rocket Man

Rocket Man

by William Hazelgrove




The Catcher in the Rye for the Great Recession generation, Rocket Man is a hilarious satire of life today, a time when middle class America is holding on by its fingernails to the increasingly elusive American Dream. Dale Hammer is 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. When Rocket Day comes, Dale is determined to give his son more than his father gave him.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781938467585
Publisher: Koehler Books
Publication date: 05/01/2013
Pages: 290
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

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 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.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"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

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

"This critically insightful diatribe against conformity is recommended"
- Library Journal

Customer Reviews

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Rocket Man 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 50 reviews.
munkygone2hevn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Formula is there but writng & story just didn't do it for me.
jjenn1960 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I began this book and was captured for about one-half of the story. I found some parts of it laugh-out-loud funny. The main character, however, never seemed to grow until the very end. The consequence of that was it turned into a very predictable story.
Harlan879 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not for me. It's a novel about a father constrained by the lifestyle of the exurbs, conflicting with his wife, his son, his neighbors, and the police. I found the writing irritatingly full of itself, the characters annoying, and the plot uninteresting. I gave it the ol' LibraryThing try, but only made it about 75 pages in before giving up.
quinnrosie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I tried to like this book, I really did. The main character was, in the end, just too much for me to take. Maybe if I was a self-absorbed, middle-aged, suburban white man I would have enjoyed it more. As it was, I kind've wanted to slap the guy and tell him to grow up. The author is obviously talented, I just couldn't get past the main character.
ginath13 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book very much. It's difficult for me being female to be able to relate to a middle-aged man going through a mid-life crisis but the author made him somewhat human and real to me despite the fact that he was whiney and self-absorbed. The story was interesting. It was a nice quick and easy ready but nothing too deep here. Also have to say that I wasn't crazy about the book's cover.
MaryC22 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rocket Man would probably play better for a male audience than a female audience. I found it hard to relate to Dale's self absorbed living regardless of whether it was with his children, wife, neighbors, in-laws or dad. The opening scene could have been funny at another time. However, with drunk driving being an issue in the deaths of 8 people just weeks ago, it didn't amuse me. In Rocket Man, a SUV loaded with children being driven by a man drinking a bloody mary and taking short cuts through a field, just didn't sit right with me. Dale's father certainly helped explain how he got the way he did, but didn't help me enjoy the book any more. I wanted to say, "hey Dale, just be a man" many times through the reading. Not many likeable characters in this one. It was well written, just off topic for me.
CBJames on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It took me two times to get into the story of Rocket Man. It is a good, solid description of suburban America and a witty take on one man disallusion with it. But there was not enough there for me to grab hold to. I don't have to identify with a novel's protagonist to like a novel, but this time I didn't identify and ended up not liking it or finishing it.
TrishNYC on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
jaclynl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
With many reviews already up I will keep mine brief. I was lucky enough to snag this book through Early Reviewers and then it did not come for quite some time, after contacting the author I was able to get a copy shipped to me, and I'm certainly glad I did. I enjoyed the book quite a bit. I have to admit that I was not blown away at the start but as the story progressed I started getting really invested in the life of Dale, the lead character. The book was funny, well written, and a believable account. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
damcg63 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a sometime meandering, often depressing and occasionally very funny look at a family trapped in the McMansion culture of the early 21st century. Dale Hammer, the main character, is a washed-up author/husband/father who over-extended himself into the nouveau burbs like so many other hapless Americans. I suppose this is the story of his week of reckoning where the wheels begin to come off his life. I liked a lot of things about the book. The prose is sharp and Mr Hazelgrove's wit is dripping from every word. I found myself laughing a number of times (Great Pumpkin scene, for example). At the same time, there is something akin to watching a slow motion train wreck in the story....with only a few pages of relief afterward. I liked it and recommend it but it was a longer slog than I expected.
jshrop on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Rocket Man" by William Hazelgrove is at best, a few disjointed glimpses at a man who struggles to maintain his fantasy picture of living a well cultured life even after he has moved to suburbia. While these few moments have some genuine lessons to take away, the majority of the book becomes a mess. Ramblings on about crushed ideals, how clueless everyone is, when in fact the main character just cannot get anything to click right in his world are ok, and provide a good plot to reflect on our
georgehawkey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I received this book as part of the Library Thing Early Reviewers. I see Dale Hammer as an angrier, more ironically aware Rabbit Angstrom. I think a modern update of the suburban ennui that Updike laid out for the '60s, '70s, '80's and '90s is necessary. The problem is, this book is not that modern update.While at points, Hazelgrove's writing was spot on, pinpointing just the perfect detail or situation of suburban life that makes it so deadening for many people. The emotional turmoil of the character was well detailed and the subtle growth in Dale Hammer's upset was very well done. At other points the writing was spotty, jumpy. I felt as is there were sections missing from the text which would have explained what I was reading. At several points I flipped to prior pages, chapters to attempt to determine who, why and how, but found nothing. Overall, this book was an almost. I liked it, but have significant reservations about recommending it given it's issues.
libraryclerk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really did like this book. I had sympathy for Dale because I saw some of him in me. Trying to make ends meet and forgetting about family and the things that matter the most. I was glad that it all worked out and that he stood up to the scout master that was more like an army officer.
realbigcat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was an OK read. At times it was very slow and hard to contnue but other sections were quite enjoyable. The title is misleading to what you might think but very appropriate for the story. I especially liked the characted of Dale Sr. the workaholic salesman with grat Southern charm. Overall the story relates to a lot of everyday life, it's ups and downs and the daily struggles we have trying to raise a family and still follow our own dreams without appearing self-serving. I really liked the ending as it was a complete surprise. A good book but no great literary work.
Bumpersmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I received this book as part of the Library Thing Early Reviewers and although it is far from my favorite genre, I was pleasently surprised at how much I enjoyed the read.This story is a cross between a man going thru a mid-life crisis, and several weeks in the life of a typical suburban family. The ups and downs of marriage and raising children, while dealing with the neighbors, in-laws and parents.
sduff222 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book, but I didn't love it. The characters were interesting, but frustrating. The main character seems to be one of those guys the media keeps calling "beta males" or "manchildren", in that he hasn't fully grown up, even though he has a family. He's depressed, or unsettled, but part of that seems to be from a failure to commit to actually being an adult. Perhaps, though, it's because he's living the life he feels he should be living, rather than the life he wants to be living. (For example, he bought a big house in the suburbs because that's what you're supposed to do when you're successful, not because he dreamt of block parties and barbecues).All in all, not a bad choice for a summer read.
andsoitgoes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I received Rocket Man by William Elliot Hazlegrove as an ARC from LibraryThing and am still on the fence as to whether or not I liked it. It was one of those books that keeps sneaking into my thoughts and I realized it was because it hits home -- my home. At first I thought this Dale Hammer is a sorry piece of work and how can somebody be this incapable of taking control of his life? But then I had to tell myself, it's only fiction and I realized he is based on many people of my generation. I don't consider 46 year olds baby boomers because we have never really been able to reap the benefits that the true boomers have. We have been left to drool after what they have and then clean it up.I could totally relate to his view of the world being based on the scene from A Christmas Story. I have heard of people my age saying shouldn't my life be like Leave it to Beaver?So I guess it comes down to that I liked the book. I could relate to the message and the ending wasn't exactly what I wanted but was realistic. This book is going to hit home to many readers, especially those born between 1960 and 1965.
rglossne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I always find it difficult to read a book where the main character consistently acts against his own best interest, and this was one of those books. I don't think Hazelgrove did a good job of convincing the reader that Dale had something valid to rebel against; I kept wanting to tell him to grow up.However, I LOVED Dale Sr. as a character. He is the quintessential optimist and salesman, and he redeems himself as a father as Dale Jr. struggles.On the whole, readable, but I didn't love it.
elbakerone on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
Copperskye on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I received Rocket Man as an ARC through the early review program. I appreciated the satirical humor and it was certainly topical, and those aspects kept me reading and fairly well entertained. I initially found Dale Hammer, husband, father and rocket man, difficult to like but he eventually won me over. I guess I feel that way about the book as a whole ¿ I was about half way through before I started to enjoy it at all. Overall, it was a fairly enjoyable read and I laughed out loud once or twice. As an aside, though, the unfortunate editorial choice of book cover left me cold.
Wrighty on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dale Hammer wants to live the American Dream but is a dismal failure. He wants to be a good father and husband but can't really accomplish either. This book is a week of his life. A week when it is all falling apart.Dale, or pen name D.T. Hammer, is a failed author who earns his living as a mortgage broker. He has moved his family to the suburbs because he was convinced that all of his problems will be solved if they move out of the city.Nothing could be further from the truth. Once they are relocated he decides that they should move back to the city and everything will be fine, this time. Such is life for Dale. The desire is there but the motivation and the responsibility is not. There is no sympathy for this man because he brings it on himself and has damaged his relationships with his wife, his children and his neighbors. To add to his misery his father, who was not a good father figure himself, has moved in with them. But the weekend brings Rocket Day for his son's scout troop. He is determined to give his son a great experience and himself some redemption.Dale's struggle are especially timely with our recent economic hardships. When many people define themselves by their careers and their roles in society, who do they become when they lose those parts of their lives? Are we setting our goals based on the expectations of others or are our goals what we really hope to achieve in our life? This story was well written with interesting characters and plenty of conflict with everyone struggling to maintain their own form of normal.
debavp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hmm, was looking forward to reading this. Then I got the advanced copy and the letter attached made me not want read it. After it sat a week while I slyly eyed it, actually waiting for it to hurl itself into my hands (again--that letter attached did not encourage me), I gave in to temptation and began to read it.It took longer to read than I would have expected, don't know why, maybe it was the extensive vocabulary(not boring or pretentious mind you, actually quite a delight)or the way some of the scenes unfolded and needed to be absorbed. I'm not sure. I do know that this is an great book. And SURPRISE, I do agree with the publisher's letter that it is a book for our current time. But it's not a dire, desparate look at society and relationships today. I found it to be endearing, humorous, a tad bittersweet, and being from the south totally accurate regarding us crazy Southerners. I think the greatest aspect is that Hazelgrove gives the reader the gift of showing a modern day man dealing with the consequences of his actions and how that affects an entire family, and he does so without turning into a jerk or a hero, but does it in a way I'm sure all of us would like to be able to do while overcoming the chaos that makes up our lives.
txwildflower on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When I received this early reviewer book "Rocket Man" by William Elliott Hazelgrove I immediately thought of Elton John. When my husband saw it on the nightstand he asked if I was reading about Ryan Newman. Well, this book is not about a singer or a Nascar driver. It's about a man that gets caught up in everday life and doesn't like to conform. He is definitely a rebel! Hooray for that! It is a hilarious novel about our modern world today and our love for the big fancy car, the house out in the suburbs and having everything a little better than the Joneses next door. Bottom line....he still loves his kids and strives to be the best 'Rocket Man' ever! A funny, very enjoyable book!
ahegge on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rocket Man by William Elliott Hazelgrove tells the story of a Dale, a middle aged man who is dissatisfied with his middle class, suburban lifestyle. I found this to be an incredibly frustrating book to read because of Dale. Having the complete opposite personality of this man, it was clear to me throughout exactly what he needed to do to solve his many problems. So, I was annoyed that it took him nearly 400 pages to even start to figure it out. Hazelgrove's writing improved as the book progressed and I enjoyed the last hundred or so pages the most because of this. His portrayal of life in the suburbs is almost too spot on and ended up ruining the escapist nature of reading in that I feel I've witnessed more than enough of these awkward family/neighbor interactions and don't wish to read about them too. All in all, a valiant effort, but not exactly my favorite book ever.
guyfs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading this book. It is well written and comes across with a strong, original voice, Purely to give an idea of the flavour, and not suggesting that it is in any way derivative, I was reminded of Richard Russo and Michael Chabon.The only real problem is that the central character is so unsympathetic. It is difficult to empathise with someone who goes through life in some kind of morose, self-pitying withdrawal - and the fact that he is a failed novelist is no excuse! T.D. Hammer (is there some kind of American joke there that I have missed?) is a failure as a father, a husband, a writer and a neighbour. It is perhaps a tribute to Hazelgrove's powers of characterisation that Hammer comes across as so determinedly awful, but it makes for a very bleak read. Incidentally, some of the other characters are wonderfully drawn too, especially Hammer's father and the obnoxious scoutmaster and his wife.I am not sure whether the book was meant to be funny or not. If so, then I missed the humour, but then this is a very American book, to the extent that it is quite a difficult read for a Brit. To take but one small example, I have no idea what a crossing belt is.I should also mention that the book contains a lot of strong language, which some readers may find upsetting. I certainly found it a bit disturbing myself. Is it really necessary? There is only one incidence of it which is actually integral to the plot.