Thomas Rogers, 1927-2007

I neglected to note the death earlier this month of Thomas Rogers, whose first two novels, The Pursuit of Happiness and Confessions of a Child of the Century were both nominated for the National Book Award (in 1968 and 1972, respectively) … and have both been out of print since 1982.

In a review of Roger’s other two novels, At the Shores (1980) and Jerry Engels (2002), both of which dealt with the adolescence and sexual education of an Indiana boy in the 1940s, Cathleen Shine wrote,

One of Thomas Rogers’s many gifts as a novelist is his ability to imbue the less appealing realities of both love and landscape with a gentle, elegiac beauty. Rogers writes about adolescent boys and the industrial towns of eastern Indiana. Nothing, at first glance, could excite less admiration. Yet, in Rogers’s loving hands, drunken frat boys are revealed in all the sweetness of their humanity, and the fires of steel mills decorate the evening sky like sunsets.

The Other Press, which issued Jerry Engels and reissued At the Shores, has a small set of pages devoted to Rogers. But more touching is the obituary from the Centre Daily Times, in which neighbors recall his garden and the sound of his typing away on quiet summer days.

I read The Pursuit of Happiness decades ago and remember it as surprisingly strong but written with a light touch. It’s the story of a privileged young WASP who, as I recall, leaves the country not because of the draft and the Vietnam War, which always lurk in the shadows of the story, but because of a stupid hit-and-run accident. I may go back and reread it now. Vale, Thomas Rogers.

6 thoughts on “Thomas Rogers, 1927-2007

  1. One thing not mentioned in the obits is that Rogers completed “A The Shores” in the early ’90s, and spent almost a decade trying to find a publisher, with no success. In 2000 or so he finally published it himself (via xlibris or iuniverse, forget which) and sent a copy to Philip Roth, who had provided “The Pursuit Of Happiness” with a blurb thirty years before. Roth promptly recommended the book to an agent, and the agent ultimately got the Other Press to take it; “At The Shores”, when reissued, had a blurb from Roth calling Rogers “the American Evelyn Waugh.” (Echoing, as it happens, Harper Lee’s description of Peter De Vries in a Roy Newquist interview from ’64 available online.)

  2. Just re-read Pursuit of Happiness last night–both a sentimental and literary journey for me as Thomas Rogers was my father. Wonderful to find your website and this write up of the Pursuit. Yes, written with a light touch–you got it right. The book moves along with this often funny dialog (William can be maddening!), and suddenly it all adds up, takes on depth and shape in surprising ways. Anyway–thanks, Susan

  3. Thanks so much for your comment. It’s a privilege to be able to recognize the work of fine writers such as your father, and a treat to know it meets your approval.

  4. I just finished The Pursuit of Happiness as well, and I am quite convinced it is one of the best American novels of the 20th century. It’s the first book by this particular author I’ve read, but it’s such a compelling read it has me more excited than ever to watch Robert Mulligan’s 1971 film. Susan, if you’re still reading this, I have to say: your father was a magnificent writer.

    RIP Thomas Rogers

  5. Had not heard of Thomas Rogers until now. Am reading Susan Roger’s beautiful memoir, My Reach, which includes loving reflections on both of her parents. Now I will go looking for his books.

  6. I had the great privilege to be in one of Thomas’s fiction workshop classes at Penn State in the 1980s. He was a wonderful writer–though, far too slow for people who loved his novels, as I can remember him reading chapters of Jerry Engels to us back then!–a great teacher, and a very funny and warm person.

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