Dust Jacket Information
Miles Pruitt grew up in Staggerford, Minnesota, he went to school there, and
now he teaches English in the high school--a lifetime of lunches in the school
cafeteria, a lifetime of writing or correcting themes, a lifetime of
friendships, a life of solid continuity. This is the story of one week in
Miles's life and in the life of Staggerford; it is a week of small disturbances
and minor conflicts that build to an unforeseen and violent climax.
Staggerford, Minnesota, is populated by ordinary people who can be seen,
through Hassler's astute and ironic vision, as quite extraordinary. There is
Agatha McGee, Pruitt's landlady who, after teaching at least two generations of
Staggerford's children, has come to believe in the imminent return of the Dark
Ages, and who can rise to any occasion when driven by her personal code of
morality. There is Superintendent Stevenson, who, against his better judgment,
believed it when he was told he was an Indian expert and who has lived to regret
his youthful hubris. Now he is equally convinced of his own frailty, and his
body has folded in on itself to echo, physically, his psychological withdrawal
from life. Coach Gibbon rides his personal hobby-horse, trying, season after
season, to squeeze a winning team out of Staggerford's losers while his wife,
Stella, frolics with mindless abandon in the office of the local dentist.
Imogene Kite, the ungainly librarian who is Miles's current companion;
Thanatopsis Workman, whom Miles loves from afar; Beverly, the bonewoman's
daughter who, through Miles, is seeking a better life--these are only a few of
Staggerford's remaining inhabitants.
Their lives are generally quite ordinary, though they would not see them as such, and from their views of themselves and their reactions to the world around them, Jon Hassler has derived a pathos and a humor that make Staggerford at once a very moving and a very funny book.
FIRST HOUR, Miles yawned.
It seemed to Miles that while the faces changed from year to year, the
personality of a first-hour class never varied. It was a tractable class. Most
of the thirty students hadn't been out of bed for more than half an hour and
they weren't yet sharp or restless. Like Miles, they were sleepy. Moreover, they
were slow-witted. The Staggerford High School band rehearsed during first hour,
and the better students for some reason were inevitably drawn to band. Each
morning as the band marched across the street to the football field,
high-stepping and tooting in preparation for its halftime formations, these
thirty students were left in the classroom to puzzle over the formations of the
compound sentence or the working parts of the business letter. Love poems by Rod
McKuen were beyond them. To say that all nonmusicians were dull would have been
unwarranted, and Miles would not have said it. What he would have said, however,
was that Staggerford's nonmusicians were dull. But it was an agreeable,
easygoing sort of dullness that would never lead to trouble; and since Miles
himself was no ball of fire at eight in the morning, he and these thirty seniors
moved comfortably through the weeks together, rubbing the sleep from their eyes.
How then (Miles wondered) could there have come from Albert Fremling's house
such a son as Lee--slow and congenial and even-tempered? Lee must have been what
his mother and grandmother had made him. Mrs. Fremling was a small, cool woman,
and Mrs. Fremling's mother who lived with them, was just like her. These two
women-- neat and efficient, smart and silent--kept the house and yard and
newspaper office and Lee (all except the editor himself) orderly. But in
sheltering Lee from the grossness of his father, it seemed to Miles that these
two women had prolonged in him the illusions of childhood, and had delayed the
coming on of worldly wisdom. Lee's eyes were full of innocence. On the football
field, despite his size, he was pushed around a good deal. He was large like his
father, but this largeness was not, like his father's, the bulk of
self-indulgence. It was baby fat.
It happens in Minnesota
The author's name is Jon Hassler. Bear it in mind.
His Staggerford is an absolutely smashing first novel.
The title is the name of a middle-sized Minnesota town where Miles Pruitt was born and brought up and now teaches high-school English. The story is of one week in Priutt's life -- a week beginning at 8 in the morning on Oct. 30 and ending in the mid-afternoon Nov. 7.
This is a novel of confrontation, of love, of sympathy and affection. It is packed with the quirks and quiddities of the Staggerford citizenry -- and with some splendidly hilarious scenes.
Hassler has brought us a village portrait gallery, done in a gently mocking, realistic irony which is delightful.
Staggerford is an altogether succesfull work, witty, inteligent, compassionate. Jon Hassler is a name to remember. A writer who begins this well, this solidly, is going to go a long way. Mark my words.
Review by Eugenia Thornton Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Small town life"
Staggerford, Minn., is the locale of Jon Hassler's first novel, a thoroughly convincing X-ray vision of small-town life through the eyes of Miles Pruitt, a 35-year-old high school English teacher.
The very ordinariness of these people, their actions and this plot is precisely what makes Staggerford a worthwhile commentary on how we live and how we die. Hassler is able to look beneath the surface and trace the human comedy in all its contortions in Staggerford, and the result is a book that ought not to be missed.
This is the town where everyone wants his children to grow up, and Hassler tells us what happens when they do.
Hassler has confidently shaped Staggerford around such certainties, and populated it with prototypic -- but hardly stereotypic -- characters that continue to surprise, delight and horrify the reader; they are, in short, fictional creations that are just as real as the problems they grapple with.
In getting them all together in Staggerford and turning his town to life, Jon Hassler has created a throughly satisfying piece of fiction, one that is simultaneously so sincere, so true, so honest with itself and so very, very, funny that a reader often has to wipe the tears out of the corners of his eyes before he can -- as he must -- read on.
The Houston Post August 28, 1977 By Mitzi M. Brunsdale
"The sounds of subversion"
The London Observer June 25, 1978 By Hermione Lee
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