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About the Author
Michael Hallock is a poet, songwriter, and novelist residing in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. His life began in pre-Disney Orlando, Florida, back then a sleepy “cowtown” not that different from the fictitious Hopperton in My Secret Radio. He attended the University of Florida and later the University of Pittsburgh, where he was co-editor of the student literary magazine along with Michael Chabon. Hallock's poetic output includes the book Still Be Beautiful and numerous contributions to prestigious poetry journals. His musical discography includes several CDs recorded with the bands Lost Marbles and High on Loretta. My Secret Radio is his first novel.
Michael Hallock is happily married, and when he is not writing, enjoys playing chess, gardening, strumming old Dylan tunes, and daydreaming about sitting on a Cape Cod beach, watching the surf while listening carefully for radio waves left over from the Big Bang.
MY SECRET RADIO
Bill Shaffer, a twice-divorced, retired philosophy professor living in a small Florida town, gets the news that the best man at both of his weddings and the current husband of his second wife, is getting out of prison. This news propels him on an introspective journey back through time, beginning in 1967, his senior year in high school, and for him, a perilous, traumatic year of emotional, political, and sexual awakening, leading to his exile from the rural Georgia town of his birth, and his separation from the yellow-haired girl who changed everything.
From there, My Secret Radio follows Bill and a richly diverse cast of characters—wives and lovers, family, friends and foes—through five tumultuous decades, from the Deep South of his youth to present day Florida, weaving humor, violent tragedy, love and unsparing self-examination into a multilayered, eloquent masterpiece. My Secret Radio brilliantly explores questions confronting us all: How do we forgive the past? How do we learn to embrace what we have become?
A moving and witty novel
With "My Secret Radio" Michael Hallock has written a wonderful novel. His book is sustained by interesting, sharply etched characters. It is also often a novel of ideas, as befits a first-person narrator who is a retired philosophy professor.
Bill Shaffer is assessing his life and times over the past fifty years, from his boyhood in rural Gerogia in the 1960's to his current life in northern Florida in the 2010's. The stages of his experiences are often evoked through the use of song titles implanted in Bill's memory from his youthful addiction to secret radio listening. The novel works by oscillation through these time periods so that past and present are inextricably bound together. Bill's self-imposed task is to try to make some kind of sense of his fraught past.
It is a complicated past. Bill's relationships with family members, friends of his youth, girl friends, wives, his daughter and grand-daughter are deeply felt and often conflicted. Much of the characterization is developed through crackling dialog, and Bill himself is often a witty narrator.
Wider historical events impinge on Bill and other characters--for instance, the integration of public schools in the South, the Vietnam War. It is fascinating to follow young Bill's developing consciousness about the evils of racism and nationalism, as he confronts these attitudes among family and acquaintances.
Even minor characters are memorable, such as Natalya, a Russian woman with a low opinion of Ayn Rand (beloved of some characters in the novel) and Bill's free-thinking Aunt Miriam (so different from his conventional parents).
There is much to enjoy as well as to be enlightened by in "My Secret Radio."
Professor Emeritus of English, Lakeland Community College, Mentor, Ohio
I recommend this book
When William Davis Shaffer learns that Carl Decker, his longtime friend, will soon be released from prison, a myriad of thoughts come rushing back. For one, Carl slept with both of his ex-wives. William (Bill, as he is fondly called), a philosophy professor cum author who views life through the lens of his discipline, tries to sort through the debris of his life to understand events that have taken place. Is Carl really a friend or just an opportunist? Was he just a victim, or did he play a (passive/active) role in how things turned out? This is one book you will not be able to put down.
My Secret Radio by Michael Hallock is written in the first-person narrative and tells the story of William Davis Shaffer, a small boy from the little town of Hopperton. Interlacing his early life with events in the present, Michael meshes philosophy, psychology, and politics into an intriguing story of love, betrayal, petty crime, selfishness, and unusual alliances. We are introduced to Don Heffelfinger, Bill's childhood friend; Sally, Wanda Grice, and Karen Levine (Bill's first wife); Linda Featherstone, his eccentric second wife; Ramona, his daughter; Olivia, his granddaughter; and Carl Decker, his longtime friend. In this story, the author details the intricate web of love, friendship, and betrayal that binds them together. As Carl is released from prison and requests to see Bill, the professor takes a trip down memory lane to recount the events that have led up to this point. What I saw while reading was a boy who sought to understand the world around him by likening them to characters in books he had read. With no other outlet for his feelings, Bill pours them all out in a book wherein he uses his philosophical education to make sense of it all.
The use of sarcasm and humor in this narrative was awesome. As inexperienced as he was in worldly ways, Bill found a way to survive by not taking himself too seriously. Some of the betrayals that may have broken him were carefully compartmentalized and sorted through in a part of him that may have existed in a parallel universe. Bill had the uncanny ability to detach himself from a situation and view things objectively. This may explain why he was able to remain friends with Carl and Linda despite everything. It might have seemed naive at times, but the author created a wonderful character that has personally given me another perspective on life.
Carl's friendship with Bill can, at best, be described as toxic and draining. The web created among Karen, Linda, Ramona, Olivia, Carl, and Bill was damaging and could have utterly been avoided. I cannot shake off the feeling that Carl ran roughshod over Bill as much as he could, and it irked me to no end.
There was nothing to dislike about this book. For such a voluminous book, the errors were minimal, which means it was professionally edited. This makes it deserving of a rating of 4 out of 4 stars. I recommend this book to people who tend to look at life through philosophical lenses. There are also enough tangles of love and romance to keep readers engaged.