After watching Jay O’Callahan perform his newest piece “Main Street, Jonesborough” a couple weeks ago, I decided that I needed to read his novel (which I had not realized he had written until I saw it in his study during the practice-performance of the new oral piece).
Harry’s Our Man is a quirky story about a history professor named Harry Hutchinson who decides that he wants to run for congress because no one is talking about the big issues: the bomb (can you tell it takes place in the 50’s?), the mental health of their young people, discrimination, etc. And he doesn’t much care if he wins because all he really wants to do is force people to look at these issues for what they really are. I won’t tell you much more except that the election actually takes place towards the middle of the book and the second half is the aftermath.
I found the presentation of this novel to be interesting because O’Callahan is primarily an oral tradition performer and the language of this novel definitely reflects that. When I stopped expecting the form to match what is more common written conventions, it was more enjoyable to read. Devices that are more common in the oral tradition such as repetition and shorter combinations of sentences felt a bit awkward on the page at first, but only until I got used to seeing them, rather than hearing them.
But if you like a book that digs a little into politics, but more into the culture of the cold war, then this book would be an excellent read for you. The characters are superbly constructed (as if you could expect anything less from O’Callahan) and the story line is fascinating.