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Not a Roar but a Barbaric Yawp

Judyth A. Willis reviews Hear Him Roar by Andrew Wingfield

Hear Him Roar by Andrew WingfieldThe roar you hear in Andrew Wingfield’s first novel, Hear Him Roar, is not the cougar on the front cover. The roar comes from the aging curmudeon Charlie Sayers giving birth to his soul. His roar is precisely what Walt Whitman described in “Leaves of Grass:” I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.

Charlie has reached the age where his death is dogging his thoughts. Transferred from his position of biologist in the Department of Wildlife to Community Relations, a position not particularly suited for a curmudeon, he is now in charge of taking welfare kids fishing for the day. Assignnments like this add to his feeling of being old and useless. To deepen his discomfort, he is secretly concerned because he is no longer interested in sex with his partner, Jean. The anniversary of his son’s death is nearing and a pain in his stomach is signifying unresolved issues.

Furthermore, he has seen the countryside developed with too many people building too many houses, and he doesn’t like that either.

Amidst all these issues, Charlie is angry that the Department of Wildlife is going to go after the cougar that killed a jogger. Charlie none-too-secretly sides with the cougar. The retired, aging man, might look and even act tame, but underneath he is burning with the need to lash out against his diminishment.

In creating Charlie, Wingfield has given us a character with a memorable, unwavering voice: Charlie speaks his truth. While driving to work one morning he clearly illuminates the conundrum presented by man’s encroachment on wild places.

I, all unheeded, took my bitter pleasure in remembering how it started. In the beginning was the army of earthmovers that rolled across the empty undulating spaces to flatten big patches out. When that was done they headed for the hills, blitzing the draws and canyons and clearing away the brush. Reinforcements swarmed in behind them to run pipe, lay pavement, string wire, and cut down inconvenient trees. Houses went up and these auto pilots to the left of me, after buying them, set to work beautifying their lots, putting lush lawns down, planting all kinds of young trees and shrubs. They marveled at the deer when they started to arrive. Beautiful creatures! What could make their garden more delightful? But deer must eat. And deer will be eaten, especially if you vote to protect the deer’s natural predator, the mighty mountain lion. I had no beef with the big cats. What bothered me was this other species, homo dingus dongus. In their natural state those hills were cougar country. The cougars had little really good habitat left, but plenty of food, so long as they didn’t mind keeping company with homo dingus dongus. But wait, why fault him? He means well. He bears no grudge against the cougar. Hell, he voted to protect the damn things. But did he ever think that cat might come back to bite the hand that shielded him? Of course he didn’t. For he is a near-sighted animal. His vision rarely reaches past the edge of his fastidious front lawn.


The Aging, Raging Male. Hear him roar.

Charlie’s yawp is aimed at the heads of the endless line of commuters driving to work, but it is more truly aimed at life and the pain of being a man in today’s world.

Without a doubt, Wingfield’s main character is untranslatable. The mystery of the man remains veiled as the story unfolds. There is no knowing what he will do next. How perfectly un-perfect! Unlike Atticus Finch, Charlie’s make-up requires that he show his pain as he wrestles with life. The cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude don’t come easy. He suffers the pangs of parental guilt, he lusts after women (is lusting okay if it gets your aging motor running?), he embarrasses himself, he resents his partner’s son. He is a likeable human. And therefore his yawp is tolerated, perhaps even appreciated.

Life is hard, being diminished by age hurts, but Charlie isn’t giving up.

One would think from all this that Charlie is the lone character in the story. Oh, no. Wingfield clearly delineates unique, believable characters. There is Don, Charlie’s former partner in the biology department: “One thing I’d always enjoyed about Don was how deeply laughter altered him. Right now it set his neck-skin waggling. It made his shoulders rise and his eyes disappear and his purple color darken fiercely.” Their relationship reads just right with the manly silences, the tough sort of teasing, the ways of relating that exist between guys.

There is Sadie, Charlie’s daughter, so carefully defined as female in Charlie’s inner conversations about her. She is looking for a way through her grief over her brother’s death. She is willing to share her journey with Charlie, whether he is willing to accept her help or not. It is going to mean some work on that soul he has so carefully hidden from himself and the world.

Hear Him Roar is a thoroughly enjoyable read and I sincerely hope this is not the first and only novel by Andrew Wingfield. I’ll be waiting.


Judyth A. Willis has spent the last sixteen years teaching in the American school system. She is currently an office clerk, health aide and para pro at a peace-based middle school: there is hope in her heart. She lives in Civano, an environmentally friendly village in Tucson, Arizona.
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Hear Him Roar

By Andrew Wingfield

   Utah State University    Press
   July 2005
   ISBN 087421615x

Purchase this book at Powells.com.


Read a a glimpse of how, where, and why Andrew Wingfield developed his connection with some of the mountain lions that populate his novel in "Folsom Blues," appearing in this issue of Terrain.org.



Read an excerpt of Hear Him Roar now.


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