Dancing Naked: A Novel
Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner
Hardback. 372 Pages. / 1-56085-130-9 / $20.95
PUBLICATION PRIZE, UTAH ARTS COUNCIL, UTAH BOOK AWARD, CENTER FOR THE BOOK
Terry Walker is an even-tempered, successful mathematics professor, comfortable with his world—the order and predictability of it. He likes the kind of life one lives in a quiet Salt Lake City subdivision. At his children’s births, he masks his terror with numbers—his wife’s contractions and dilations, blood pressure, heart rate. At funerals he absorbs his grief by calculating the cubic feet of earth the coffin and vault will displace.
But control is illusive, something his fifteen-year-old son Blake never lets him forget. A sensitive boy, Blake has refused to eat meat since the time he could walk. Fearing he will hurt his friends’ feelings, Blake withdraws from a spelling bee that he could easily win. More importantly, however, Blake harbors a secret that he keeps from Terry.
Driving this important first novel are issues and characters Thomas Mann himself would have found compelling. Terry Walker’s inability to accept what he knows and does not know about his child, what he possibly could never accept, exacts a high price. Almost at the threshold of insanity, the father begins waging a war against a powerful chaos. Van Wagoner takes his readers beyond a simple foretelling of what happens in such situations to deep beneath the story’s skin, to a place readers will find familiar and perhaps even irresistible.
Tim Sandlin has commented on Dancing Naked (Sandlin is the author of Skipped Parts, a New York Times “Notable Book.”), noting how “remarkably clean” Van Wagoner’s prose is. He calls him a “first-rate writer” and adds that he “stares deep into the heart of intolerance, grief, and redemption, and does not blink.”
David Lee (Western States Book Award for My Town) considers Van Wagoner “the best contemporary writer in Utah.” Elaborating, he writes: “Reading Van Wagoner is like opening a can of biscuits: there’s the pop, the swelling, the aroma of fresh dough, and the anticipation of flavor. And the wonder: how can he fit so much into such a small vessel?”
Similarly, Levi Peterson (Association for Mormon Letters Book Award for Canyons of Grace) praises the “mastery of language” and “perfectly cadenced sentences” in Dancing Naked. He says that it is remarkable that Van Wagoner can so perfectly present “the effects of male ego—a punitive anger turned against homosexuality—upon three generations of a family.”
Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner (shown here with wife Cheri) is the recipient of Best Short Fiction awards from Carolina Quarterly, Shenandoah, Sunstone, and Weber Studies, and has been published in The Best of Writers at Work, In Our Lovely Deseret, and other anthologies. Dancing Naked received the highest literary awards possible from the Utah Arts Council (Publication Prize) and the Utah affiliate of the Library of Congress Center for the Book (Utah Book Award).
Rob has also been a Resident Artist with the Utah and Wyoming Arts in Education programs, and a Writers at Work faculty member. He was Outstanding Graduate in English and psychology at Weber State University (Ogden, Utah). He and his wife are Utah natives but now live in Washington state. They say they are the proud parents of two sons, one rottweiler, and a big orange lizard.