Dale Hammer, the Rocket Man, has it all: a big new house in the suburbs, an attractive wife who also happens to be an attorney, a young son, and the good fortune to work at what he loves most - writing.
But don’t start envying Dale too quickly, because Dale Hammer also has: a new house he cannot really afford, an attractive wife who is seriously thinking of divorcing him, a young son who considers Dale to be a complete “doofus,” and the misfortune to be an unmotivated writer whose only three novels have been out of print for years. To top it off, Dale is smack dab in the middle of a serious middle-age crisis all his own.
In Rocket Man, William Elliott Hazelgrove creates an Everyman for our times, a guy bewildered by the twists and turns of his life but still hoping to find a way to become the man he imagines himself to be. The problem is that Dale is not the self-motivated type, and despite his best intentions, he can seldom force himself to “go along to get along.” In the course of just a few days, his rebellious nature results in him being investigated by the police for the destruction of what he considers to be an atrocious sign marking the entrance to his neighborhood, fighting an all-out war with both the crossing guard and P.E. coach at his son’s elementary school, getting caught driving a vehicle full of Boy Scouts across private property with a drink in his hand, and desperately trying to salvage his turn as this year’s Rocket Man for that same troop of scouts.
The role of Rocket Man - the scout-parent in charge of safely launching the individual rockets constructed by each troop member - is not something that particularly appeals to Dale, but he sees it as perhaps his last chance to prove to his son that he is not the doofus he. Can Dale successfully launch the rockets without killing himself or half the scouts? Will his wife serve him with divorce papers either way? Will his brother and sister-in-law ever speak to him again? Will he be sent to jail for sawing down the sign he denies ever touching but for which he has openly expressed his distaste? Will he ever be allowed on the grounds of his son’s elementary school again?
These are just some of the things on Dale’s plate.
Dale is definitely having a difficult time, mid-life crisis or not. He might not be the most likable character readers have recently encountered, but they will find themselves pulling for him nevertheless because he dares to do so many of the things that others only wish they could do. Who has not on more than one occasion daydreamed of taking down some pompous blowhard? Can any of us honestly say that we don’t feel a little vigilante in ourselves when the circumstances are just right? Dale does not deny it, especially to himself.
Hazelgrove fills Rocket Man with enough eccentric characters (my favorite is D.T. Hammer, Sr., Dale’s Mississippian father who knows exactly when to revert to a stereotypical Southern plantation owner persona that would be familiar to Scarlett O’Hara herself) to turn it into quite a suburban adventure, one that will have the reader shaking his head while at the same time rooting for the Rocket Man to successfully pull his life back together. Go, Dale!