Harry, Revised by Mark Sarvas

As a regular reader of Mark Sarvas’s litblog, The Elegant Variation, I snapped up Harry, Revised as soon as it came out but was afraid to let my expectations rise too much. A first novel can be a tricky thing, and reading someone’s voice in fiction for the first time is nothing like reading his essays.

But by the end of the first chapter, I was very optimistic—though still a bit cautious. Harry, a forty-something widower lusting after a young waitress, was perfectly drawn to be just the right combination of pathetic and dirty-minded, charming and neurotic, and relatable. The third-person narrator has access to much of Harry’s internal monologue, which is smart, funny, and somewhat depressing—a microcosm of the novel as a whole, really.

In less talented hands, the characters could easily have become unbearable. A young, sexy, full-of-herself grad student/waitress with a bad boyfriend could have ruined a story single-handedly, with no help from an exercise-addicted, über-motivated career woman (the dead wife), but instead we completely understand why Harry loves these women and accept him with all his flaws. Too often I am left wondering in vain at the inexplicable actions of a character who has “grown” emotionally in the course of a novel, but the changes Harry goes through felt genuine and understandable. His resolution, though as imperfect and open-ended as reality demands, was still comprehensible and satisfying.

I have not been this excited about a book by an author not previously known as “safe” since I can remember, and I can only hope that Mr. Sarvas has more of the same waiting in the wings. And my God, the spinning class scene alone, one of the funniest I have read in ages.