Soldier, son, lover, husband, breadwinner, churchgoer, Henry Maxwell has spent his whole life trying to live with honor. A native Pittsburgher and engineer, he's always believed in logic, sacrifice, and hard work. Now, seventy-five and retired, he feels the world has passed him by. It's 1998, the American century is ending, and nothing is simple anymore. His children are distant, their unhappiness a mystery. Only his wife Emily and dog Rufus stand by him. Once so confident, as Henry's strength and memory desert him, he weighs his dreams against his regrets and is left with questions he can't answer: Is he a good man? Has he done right by the people he loves? And with time running out, what, realistically, can he hope for? Henry, Himself is a portrait of an American who believes he's reached a dead end only to discover life is full of surprises.
O’Nan trusts that the simplicity of his story, rather than dulling Henry’s character, will instead reveal it ... Tracking Henry’s subtle interplay with Emily, and the unspoken mysteries that concern him, O’Nan reveals a rich inner life.
... [O'Nan] excels at observing nuanced dramas and personalities playing out beneath the skin of something as mundane an extended family at their summer cottage, doing a jigsaw puzzle during a rainstorm ... Mr. O’Nan, with some of his most gorgeous writing, also provides Henry instances of unexpected grace ... This novel is a lovely tribute to the enduring mystery of an ordinary life; it wouldn’t have hurt Henry much to hold him to stricter accounts on the matter.
O’Nan elevates the routines and chores of quiet domesticity to a nearly heroic level in his lingering attention to details, from plumbing troubles to coupons, walking the dog, and all the preparations and disruptions of holiday gatherings. Like Richard Russo and Anne Tyler, O’Nan discerningly celebrates the glory of the ordinary in this pitch-perfect tale of the hidden everyday valor of a humble and good man.