William Hoffman, RIP

Published:October 13, 2009 by Brendan Wolfe

William Hoffman (1925-2009)

The novelist William Hoffman died September 13. From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

With 14 critically acclaimed novels and four short-story collections to his credit, author Henry William Hoffman should have been a literary giant, his fans said, but he never found mass-market fame.

“Bill Hoffman was probably Virginia’s least-known best writer—an author recognized by his peers for his tremendous talent—who has not received the public recognition his writing deserved,” said Sandra G. Treadway, the librarian of Virginia. “He gave a number of well-received book talks at the library. He captured beautifully the sense of place found in rural areas and created complex, believable characters.”

Our entry on Hoffman quotes from his novel Yancey’s War (1966), a copy of which I have sitting here on my desk, a gift from our literature section editor, Casey Clabough. The writing is, I think, Proulx-esque in places. Here is how he begins:

Unlike the rest of us, Marvin Yancey was not young. His skin had a reddish tinge, and he bulged with fat. He couldn’t have been more than an inch or two over five feet tall. His short legs were thick at the thighs, and his dark, thinning hair grew out of a pale, flaking scalp.

Most of us were draftees. We were standing at ungraceful attention under a blazing Virginia sun after coming west from Richmond by train the evening before to a raw, new induction center set among pines. Chiggers buried in us, and ticks sucked our blood. Shouting, exasperated noncoms herded us like dumb cattle through the battery of processing—the inoculations, the aptitude tests, and the VD movie.

. . .  At twenty-five I was near the average age. A few were in their early and middle thirties. Yancey, however, was well into his forties.

He sagged in the yellow-hot sun like a stick of butter set on end.

IMAGE: William Hoffman