To call HEY JACK! a novel may be stretching the term a bit, but who cares? Its 133 pages, easily read in an evening, bear witness to Hannah’s continuing determination to avoid at all costs the predictable, the cliched, even the merely familiar--a determination immediately apparent in his idiosyncratic titles. Hannah’s sentences are meant to keep the reader pleasantly off balance, and they do, but it is difficult to sustain such a performance for much more than a hundred pages.
HEY JACK! is narrated by a man in his mid-fifties, haunted by memories of the Korean War, a writer perhaps. (“Suffice it to say about my profession that it requires only half a day of intense boredom and then I am free to commit trouble--or find vision, on the lucky days.”) In the course of the novel, which consists of brief episodes and reflections rather than a sustained story, the narrator marries his lover and deepens his friendship with Jack Lipsey, a cafe owner whose daughter is carrying on an affair with a disgusting rock star.
Like many contemporary writers, Hannah mixes cynicism with sentimentalism. (He writes about sex with a wild, down-to-earth lyricism that he otherwise denies himself.) Few of his fellow novelists, though, can make the language loop and roll as he does, and when he has his talent under control he gives the reader his money’s worth and more.