by Michael Hallock
Release date, 18 January 2022
My Secret Radio relates the story of a man on a lifelong journey to find meaning. It touches many genres with themes including 1960s establishment racism, casual drug crime, and long-buried family secrets. A shifting Southern political backdrop frames the adolescence of the protagonist, Bill Schaffer, whose adult life as a philosophy professor is riddled with complications.
Bill Schaffer is well-read, affable, and noble. If he is pedantic, it is characteristic of this meticulous novel. No event is without deeper meaning; references to music, literature, and philosophy proliferate. Bill is the type who looks below the surface. But he lacks personal grit and determination. Moved only by the actions of the supporting cast (themselves two-dimensional tropes), Bill’s meandering path feels static. With 468 pages of his journey to follow, My Secret Radio may be a steep hill for many readers to climb.
While Bill, at every stage of his life, presents himself as reasonable and well-intentioned, he is little more than a sounding box for attitudes reaching the mainstream in the mid-20th century. Though he counts himself progressive in his hometown, Bill doesn’t take part in meaningful social change, content to intellectualize and condescend. Present day, Bill doesn’t notice equivalent modern movements. He is a saint when he keeps a promise not to out a gay classmate. He’s gormless when he covers up for a double-murder committed by a friend.
Hallock buries much of what might shine in My Secret Radio. He combines genres into a mash-up of crime, mystery, romance, and philosophical treatise. Bill Schaffer’s story loses the fight against a barrage of period details, philosophical affectations, and gossipy women. Bill’s intellectualism makes him as intractable as the worst Hopperton, GA hypocrites. His personal life of disappointment and divorce are as inevitable as his abetting a murder is unbelievable. Bill’s tragedy is that a lifetime of knowing better than everyone else doesn’t comprise a fully functioning novel.
Thank you to Reedsy Discovery for an Advance Reader’s Copy of this title. Review first published on Reedsy.com, 18 January 2022 https://reedsy.com/discovery/book/my-secret-radio-michael-hallock#review