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.
...beautifully spare and poignant ... This is a novel that charms not through the complexities of its plot but through its subtle revelations of character and the human condition ... The gift of O’Nan’s fiction is to immerse us deeply in Henry’s essence, in his desire to be useful and his nostalgia for a vanished way of life, for the forgotten homespun rituals and for houses with slate roofs and ornate gables. And when we watch him winding the clocks forward, we find ourselves wishing he could hold the minute hand motionless for just a while longer.
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.