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The Coalwood Way: A Memoir Several years ago, ex NASA engineer Homer Hickam published the first volume of his memoirs, ROCKET BOYS, which was subsequently made into the hit film OCTOBER SKY In these, the author remembers growing up in the West Virginia coal town of Coalwood in the late 1950s From the moment he saw the first Soviet Sputnik traverse the night sky in 1957, Homer became obsessed with space, rockets and his hero, Werner von Braun Along with several high school chums, Hickam built and, after some initial failures, launched several dozen rockets As high school seniors, the group won a national science fair for their achievements in rocketry.In THE COALWOOD WAY, Homer expands on that period during his final high school year when he was steadily improving the design and performance of his missiles, but before he won the national competition that was the culminating triumph of his first book This second volume of memoirs focuses less on rocketry than the other challenges Hickam faced in his hometown and personal life His father, the mine superintendent, is a stern workaholic who demonstrates little overt love for his second son while being lavish with his firstborn, Jim His mother, Elsie, is increasingly disenchanted with her marriage and life in Coalwood, and wants to move to Florida to sell real estate Miners are being laid off by the parent company, an Ohio steel manufacturer Families are going hungry There s talk of a strike Homer is driven to get all A s in school to be able to escape his environment, go to college, and ultimately work at Cape Canaveral And, of course, there s the distraction of girls, and deciding whom to take to the Christmas Formal After all, Melba June did sidle up close and say in a throaty voice, I just love your rockets That THE COALWOOD WAY is less inspiring then its predecessor, and that Hollywood is unlikely to consider it material for the silver screen, shouldn t detract from the fact that it s a poignant coming of age story with an attractive hero Delightfully, the author can be occasionally humorous in a homespun sort of way, as when he observes of preachers Did failure to volunteer information count as a lie I didn t think it did though I wouldn t have wanted to put that question to a preacher It was my experience that preachers could get snagged on the details and miss the big picture entirely Perhaps my favorite character in the whole book is Elsie As Moms should be, she seems eternally wise She doesn t hesitate to occasionally tweak her husband s stiff necked obstinacy, and there are no shenanigans that Homer is getting into, or considering, that she doesn t know of It is she I most look forward to reading about in Homer s next volume of memories, SKY OF STONE. It S Fall And Homer Sonny Hickam And His Fellow Rocket Boys Are In Their Senior Year At Big Creek High, Launching Handbuilt Rockets That Soar Thousands Of Feet Into The West Virginia Sky But In A Season Traditionally Marked By Celebrations Of The Spirit, Coalwood Finds Itself At A Painful CrossroadsThe Strains Can Be Felt Within The Hickam Home, Where A Beleaguered HomerSr Is Resorting To A Daring But Risky Plan To Keep The Mine Alive, And His Wife Elsie Is Feeling Increasingly Isolated From Both Her Family And The Townspeople And Sonny, Despite A Blossoming Relationship With A Local Girl Whose Dreams Are As Big As His, Finds His Own Mood Repeatedly Darkened By An Unexplainable SadnessEager To Rally The Town S Spirits And Make Her Son S Final Holiday Season At Home A Memorable One, Elsie Enlists Sonny And The Rocket Boys Aid In Making The Coalwood Christmas Pageant The Best Ever But Trouble At The Mine And The Arrival Of A Beautiful Young Outsider Threaten To Tear The Community Apart When It Most Needs To Come Together And When Disaster Strikes At Home, And Elsie S Beloved Pet Squirrel Escapes Under His Watch, Sonny Realizes That Helping His Town And Redeeming Himself In His Mother S Eyes May Be A Bigger And Rewarding Challenge Than He Has Ever FacedThe Result Is Pure Storytelling Magic A Tale Of Small Town Parades And Big Hearted Preachers, The Timeless Love Of Families And Unforgettable Adventures Of Boyhood Friends That Could Only Come From The Man Who Brought The World Rocket Boys After having finished Homer Hickam s The Coalwood Way, I am even convinced that the author is a true national treasure, a man so good and wise that his moral compass should be the one we as a people use to set our public and private ethics Not only is The Coalwood Way a noble and vigorous sequel to October Sky, the memoir can stand on its own merits as it explores how an ever growing and conflicted teen ager struggles with incipient manhood and dissects the hiddent strengths and weaknesses of a small West Virginia mining town Hickam s graceful narrative style includes absolutely marvelous dialogue and vivid, memorable characterizations Towards the conclusion of the work, Hickam could well be describing his own work Sometimes a writer has to trust his audience to understand that words are as much art as definition.The Coalwood Way permits Hickam to thoroughly explain the first semester of his senior year in high school, the seminally important fall and winter of 1959 Having experienced initial successes after numerous failures in rocket design and propulsion, Homer Hickam must come to grips with a series of anxieties which defy his understanding and sap his confidence Increasing doubts ultimately lead to an uncharacteristic submission to self pity Homer determines to quitto quit his dreams, his aloof, demanding father, his own commitments to himself Yet, it is a late epiphany which gently guides the maturing young man to a true acceptance and glorious affirmation of the Coalwood wayof commitment to a task, a loyalty to friends and family, a sense of interdependence with local and global community The narrative drive of the last one hundred pages is breathtaking and wrenching I unabashedly was weeping the last third of the memoir.Yet, The Coalwood Way vibrates with humor, irony and humor Hickam s characterizations ring with truth, and several characters emerge as even compelling people than they had in his marvelous initial memoir Elsie Hickam, Homer s mother, is simplyan extraordinately admirable woman her resolute strength in the face of her own dashed expectations and her prescient knowledge of the demise of Coaltown matches her commitment to her beleaguered husband and two sons She is fierce in her love and unbreakable in her resolve to see Homer reach his full potential The intellectual Quentin receives royal treatment he blossoms as a young man acutely aware of his physical poverty and mental acuity Hickam provides numerous examples of Quentinese conveniently translated for us and quietly holds up his friend as a model of steadfast dedication to the life of the mind Homer s sex life receives wry and often unheeded guidance from the redoubtable Big Creek lovemaster, Roy Lee Cooke.Since Hickam is serious about his personal and social analysis, he draws the character of Dreama with enormous tenderness and compassion Slandered by most of the conventional women in town, Dreama yearns to be accepted This young adult woman, an outsider without credentials, so wishes for acceptance by the community that she submits to a catastrophic abusive relationship Hickam painfully records her life and notes the intersections between Dreama s unfulfilled hopes and his own growing fears about his own self sufficiency Dreama will remain in our literary memory for a long, long time.The Coalwood Way affirms Homer Hickam s importance as an interpreter of our national character This sure handed, deeply satisfying memoir should find a place in our personal libraries.


About the Author: Homer Hickam

Is a well-known author, some of his books are a fascination for readers like in the The Coalwood Way: A Memoir book, this is one of the most wanted Homer Hickam author readers around the world.


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