cover image Hello, I Must Be Going

Hello, I Must Be Going

Christie Hodgen, . . Norton, $23.95 (312pp) ISBN 978-0-393-06139-0

When Randall Hawthorne, a clowning but depressed Vietnam War veteran living in a central Massachusetts city in the early 1980s, commits suicide, he leaves behind a stunned and grieving family—nine-year-old daughter Frankie; her younger brother, Teddy; and their mother, Gerry, a waitress. Frankie, who narrates this wise and often funny first novel about loss and survival (after the collection, A Jeweler's Eye for Flaw ), masks her loneliness and pain with the desperate bravura of a precocious but wounded adolescent, mocking her teachers and the school psychologist, drawing obsessively in her sketchbook and dissociating from events in her life by imagining she's a character in a book. But Frankie is too smart and tough to remain isolated forever, and as she proceeds through high school and toward college, she begins to understand the need to connect with others. Most important, she sees how her father's jokes and tall tales were attempts to cover his postwar anguish and to make his children love him. Though Hodgen's sense of the absurd is sometimes overdone and her efforts to capture an adolescent sensibility can err on the side of preciousness, Frankie's vulnerability and resilience make this a moving novel. (May)