"Howard Elman's Farewell" by Ernest Hebert

Darby Doomsday: a tale about the "fading of something to nothing."



The town of Darby, NH, has been home to Howard Elman for many years. But now, in his late 80s, it's time for him to say farewell to his community — and to us.

Author Ernest Hebert has ended his Darby Chronicles series with the seventh volume, "Howard Elman's Farewell" [University Press of New England, $19.95], releasing his quirky character into the literary void.

Elman — described as "part Falstaff, part King Lear" (though Elman describes himself as a "horse's ass") — first appeared in 1979 in the first of the Darby Chronicles, "The Dogs of March."

In the years since, we've followed Elman living his life in Darby as a husband, (not-so-good) father, unpaid town constable and working man. In the latest volume, Elman — facing old age, a fractious family and a changing community — tries to hold the center by holding onto his Re In Car Nation world of rusting cars where he sees and, oddly, loves "the fading of something to nothing."

Elman is traumatized when his namesake, a majestic elm, is mysteriously cut down. What he called his "lo and behold elm" symbolized his identity and the loss is acute. The cutting of the elm is the thread that ties this final book together.

It's a rich story, as are all of Hebert's stories — complex, dense, engaging, with an occasional veer into the surreal that only adds to the richness.

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