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Hap and Hazard and the End of the World by…

Hap and Hazard and the End of the World

by Diane DeSanders

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Diane DeSanders
Hap and Hazard and the End of the World: A Novel
Bellevue Literary Press
Paperback, 978-1-9426-5836-8 (also available as an e-book, an audio book, and on Audible), 288 pgs., $16.99
January 9, 2018

Dick and Jane are well off, living with their three daughters in late 1940s Dallas when there were still cows and cotton fields out Preston Road. There are maids, cooks, yardmen, shopping at Neiman’s, dining at the Adolphus, and garden parties where the women are “talking chummily yet guardedly together out on the patio with their beautiful clothes and their diamond-cut ankles, sleek birds circling, feathers out.”

But Dick returned injured and broken from World War II. He’s in constant pain that mixes into an unstable compound with humiliation and frustration at his disfavored status at his father’s car dealership, Lone Star Oldsmobile and Cadillac, where he plays second to his brother. Dick explodes frequently and violently at “intolerable imperfections,” terrorizing his family, friends, pets, strangers, and inanimate objects.

The story is told through the first-person narration of the oldest daughter, seven years old, an anxious, imaginative child, adrift, neglected and lonely, confused by the grown-ups whom she should be able to trust to protect her. “If only I could have a big brother or even a big sister,” she laments, “someone older, or just someone—I need someone—who will tell me at least what it is that we are pretending.”

Hap and Hazard and the End of the World: A Novel is Diane DeSanders’s first book. DeSanders is a fifth-generation Texan who inexplicably lives in Brooklyn, New York. Happily, her Texan bona fides are on ample display in this charming yet heart-wrenching debut about a single tumultuous, pivotal year in the life of a young girl.

In Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The author’s choice of Dick and Jane for the parents’ names tells us that this unhappy family is not unusual, is in fact typical in the fact of their unhappiness, but the details are important, as is the fact that the child narrator remains nameless.

She relates vignettes representative of the good, the bad, and the ugly of this coming-of-age year, full of pathos in the partial understanding and magical thinking of a child. She desperately wants to believe, to have faith, in all sorts of things—God, Santa Claus, the Easter Rabbit, the adults she must depend upon—but her inquisitive mind demands proof. “I think some stories are real and some are not,” she thinks, “but grown-ups do not seem to want to tell you which are which.”

DeSanders’s word choices are precise, her style fluid, her imagery frequently delightful, as when Aunt Celeste shuffles cards for bridge, “her fingers dancers, the cards acrobats.” The child who narrates her world is sometimes daydreaming, sometimes caught in the rain (“I run out, climb the slippery wooden fence, run, slip on wet grass, fall down, get up, run, run, run”). She negotiates high-stakes playground politics (“a contest as vicious as that in any chicken yard”). Other times she’s sweetly comic: “I’d recently realized grown-ups don’t know what you’re doing if they’re not looking at you,” she tells us. “Although you have to watch out for the sides of their eyes.”

This is not a romanticized version of childhood, though the conclusion is pitch-perfect. This is a girl discovering cause and effect, exploring boundaries, feeling for the shape of her life, like the bullfrog trapped in their backyard swimming pool, “ranging the shape and size of the pool, being the shape and size of the pool, forgetting that there was ever anything else but the shape and size of the pool.”

“How much more they might accomplish if only they could talk to each other.” DeSanders quotes Jane Goodall in an epigraph opposite her author’s note. Goodall was talking about chimpanzees, but the sentiment is aptly chosen for DeSanders’s characters, a nuclear family in perpetual danger of fission.

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life. ( )
  TexasBookLover | Jun 26, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The title for this novel could have been picked from any of the chapter titles in this book. It took me a little while to get into the flow of this book but after that it went quickly. for me it left me with more questiosn than anwsers and I wish that certian parts and themes are fleshed out a bit more. ( )
  reb922 | May 29, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Hap and Hazard don't really have anything much to do with this story. They're the family dogs. The end of the world seem to factor into it much either. This is the story of an unnamed girl, eldest of three daughters, as she tries to navigate being eight (give or take). No-one will answer her questions about anything important, and she lives in a world of unexplained things (her father's short temper, her grandparents' various idiosyncrasies, whether there really is a Santa Claus, is there actually something wrong with her, and on and on). While realistic perhaps, the method of relating a child's experience of the world around her with no explanations about what is really going on is predictably challenging and unfortunately, not very rewarding. ( )
  mzonderm | Jan 29, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
An intimate and compelling coming of age story. I really enjoyed this novel, as the imagery and prose brought the story to life. A look at the roles we play in families, while trying to navigate who we are and where we fit in. I could relate a lot to the protagonist which really touched me on an individual level. ( )
  BrittanyLyn | Jan 29, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received this book through Library Thing's early reviewer program.

The book is told from the view of a young girl, and is told in broken thoughts, as a young girl might actually perceive the world. It took a little while to get used to this format - and the first half of the book took me the longest to read, simply because it was difficult to concentrate.

The novel is a collection of thoughts from the unnamed child, but does not seem to have a story arc or a plot. It is more of a series of this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened kind of narratives, so that the story really could have ended after any of the chapters, and there would have been just as much resolution.

That being said, it is interesting to see this little girl's perspective on things that are much bigger than the scope of her imagination. In Forest Gump fashion, you get little glimpses of events that are more significant than the little girl can comprehend. ( )
  krisya | Jan 26, 2018 |
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