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.