“Harry, Revised” by Mark Sarvas

Mark Sarvas’ Harry, Revised, one of the contenders for this year’s Morning News Tournament of Books, is a great example of why I don’t recommend a book or not until I’m finished. When I began it, I didn’t much enjoy it. The main character, Harry of the title is such a sorry specimen it’s easy to wonder, as he does to his wife:

“Oh, honey. Why did you marry me?”

As I was wondered whether to continue, the final line of the first chapter took me by surprise; I’d read little about this book and hadn’t bothered with the jacket copy. The end-of-chapter twist was so deftly done I thought, “I’m in.”

As I continued to read, though, Harry and his bumbling were often more painful than funny. I was reminded of the cringing feeling I get watching some of the “Michael Scott” episodes of the US The Office. The best episodes get the tricky balance between painful and funny, and manage to portray Michael as clueless but well meaning and likeable. I worried that Harry might end up like Michael in the off-balance episodes: clownish and pathetic.

I found this book got better and better toward the end, bringing each of its subplots to closure. Harry’s coming of middle age is believable and sympathetic. I found the novel all the more impressive because its structure is non-linear, and details are regularly withheld then revealed. Yet the story unfolds easily, even with the back and forward shifts in time. Sarvas is the author of the well-known litblog The Elegant Variation. Harry, Revised is his first novel, but it doesn’t read like a first novel, if you know what I mean.

This is a sweet, sad well-written book with a redemptive, earned ending. It wasn’t always easy to read, but the whole made me feel well-rewarded for engaging with it.

One Response to ““Harry, Revised” by Mark Sarvas”

  1. Steph Says:

    Thanks for the review! I will have to give this one a shot! (I wonder if there’s something else on the pile I can drop in its stead… my library doesn’t have a copy of The Dart League King, so that one’s already going to be a non-starter for me. Also, I’m reluctant to read Home, simply because I have a copy of Gilead I haven’t read yet, and I feel that I should read Home only AFTER having read that. Then again, maybe I’d best be able to evaluate Home as a stand alone novel by not having the requisite background? At the rate the library is cycling through its copies of 2666, I probably won’t read it until the ToB is over!)