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-Happy reading, Michael
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
Exiled from his small southern town by sexual scandal, 18-year-old Bill Shaffer searches for a new life. What he finds is the dangerous friendship of a reckless, drug-dealing Vietnam vet and the shifting affections of two baffling women. When fate entangles the four, Bill finds that fate, like truth, is far stranger than fiction...
During his last year of high school in 1967, Bill Shaffer's placid life in the small Georgia town of Hopperton is shattered. Bill is an ordinary, if dreamy, young man who plays chess, studies hard, and looks forward to college. Yet as the school year unfolds his love for a new girl in school leads to unforeseen scandal for both of them. Meanwhile, his best friend's father, ominously obsessed with the Civil War, enmeshes Bill in a dark and violent scheme. At home, Bill's secret belief in racial equality puts him at painful moral odds with the people closest to him.
Banished from Hopperton, Bill makes his way to a college town in Florida, where he meets Carl Decker, a charismatic, motorcycle racing Vietnam vet and pot dealer. The two form an unlikely, double-edged friendship which waxes and wanes over time, bringing both peril and two fascinating women into Bill's life: Karen and Linda, his future wives. Entanglements of love and disillusion, friendship and betrayal, bind the fates of these four people to one another, weaving a gripping fictional meditation on the frailties and resilience of the human condition.
In the end, a tragic accident and a forgotten voice from his boyhood bring Bill face to face with a question he can no longer put aside: How can he make peace with the past while keeping faith with who he has 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.