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The Magical Stranger: A Son's Journey into His Father's Life Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (May 14, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006200476X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062004765
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #645,509 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Fascinating . . . . An exemplary piece of modern reportage.” (Tom Bissell, Harper's)

The Magical Stranger is one of the realest and best books I’ve read in the past several years.” (Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk)

The Magical Stranger is the true story of a boy chasing a ghost and stumbling into manhood. It is heartbreaking and funny, broken and hopeful, often on the same page.” (Judd Apatow)

“Stephen Rodrick’s The Magical Stranger illuminates the innate ties between fathers and sons in a fresh and fascinating way. . . . Rodrick’s firsthand knowledge thoroughly transports the reader into the hearts and minds of U.S. servicemen and their families.” (Norman Ollestad, author of Crazy for the Storm)

“Stephen Rodrick finds words for what I thought was inexpressible: the private language of a military family that experiences the worst kind of loss and finally creates a path forward. There’s no more authentic account of a military family. Required reading for an America that is continually considering the cost of combat.” (Alison Buckholtz, author of Standing By)

“Stephen Rodrick exhibits courage, Catch-22 comedic flair, and unfailing emotional grasp in telling this powerful and surprising story. Anyone who wants to understand the sacrifices made by military families should read this book.” (Lily Burana, author of I Love a Man in Uniform)

“Stephen Rodrick’s poignant tale blends memoir, reportage, and clean, crisp, unsentimental prose to produce a book that makes you think, even at times makes you laugh, but in the end tears your heart out. A truly fabulous book.” (Robert Timberg, author of The Nightingale's Song)

“How does Stephen Rodrick manage to produce writing that is raw, heartbreaking, and beautifully-controlled, all at once, and on that most difficult of all topics: fathers and sons? Find out for yourself—it’s time very well spent!” (Sean Wilsey, author of Oh the Glory of It All)

“A wrenching, fascinating memoir, The Magical Stranger captures the elusive, sometimes crushing unease that haunts the lives of military families. It is written with the pace of a thriller and the emotional density of first-rate fiction.” (Blake Bailey, author of Cheever)

“This memoir of a son’s search to know his father is deeply moving, important and beautifully written. Rodrick has reminded us that the casualties of war remain long after the last mission is won.” (Danielle Trussoni, author of Falling Through the Earth)

“A powerful debut. . . . Candid and affecting.” (Kirkus)

“An engaging and immersive look at the dynamics of military units and the dual lives servicemen and women lead. . . all viewed through a crisp journalistic lens that helps Rodrick separate myth from reality.” (Publishers Weekly)

From the Back Cover

On November 28, 1979, squadron commander and Navy pilot Peter Rodrick died when his plane crashed in the Indian Ocean. He was just thirty-six and had been the commanding officer of his squadron for 127 days. Eight thousand miles away on Whidbey Island, near Seattle, he left behind a grief-stricken wife, two daughters, and a thirteenyear-old son who would grow up to be a writer—one who was drawn, perhaps inevitably, to write about his father, his family, and the devastating consequences of military service.

In The Magical Stranger, Stephen Rodrick explores the life and death of the man who indelibly shaped his life, even as he remained a mystery: brilliant but unknowable, sacred but absent—an apparition gone 200 days of the year for much of his young son's life—a born leader who gave his son little direction. Through adolescence and into adulthood, Rodrick struggled to grasp fully the reality of his father's death and its permanence. Peter's picture and memory haunted the family home, but his name was rarely mentioned.

To better understand his father and his own experience growing up without him, Rodrick turned to today's members of his father's former squadron, spending nearly two years with VAQ-135, the "World-Famous Black Ravens." His travels take him around the world, from Okinawa and Hawaii to Bahrain and the Persian Gulf—but always back to Whidbey Island, the setting of his family's own story. As he learns more about his father, he also uncovers the layers of these sailors' lives: their brides and girlfriends, friendships, dreams, disappointments—and the consequences of their choices on those they leave behind.

A penetrating, thoughtful blend of memoir and reportage, The Magical Stranger is a moving reflection on the meaning of service and the power of a father's legacy.


More About the Author

Stephen Rodrick is a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine and also a contributing editor at Men's Journal. His writing has been anthologized in The Best American Sports Writing, The Best American Crime Reporting, and The Best American Political Writing. He lives in Los Angeles.

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Customer Reviews

This is quite simply one of the best books I have read in a very very long time.
Alyssa A. Lappen
At times the story's flashbacks from the present are abrupt but do not significantly detract from the engaging storyline.
chuck lilley
This is an extremely well written book that manages to successfully tell more than one story.
G. Young

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By 35-year Technology Consumer TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
...in each of the personal, professional and technical layers it addresses.

When I was offered this book for review, I selected it because of my own Navy background (now very distant) that included three flying assignments in both carrier-based and shore-based naval aircraft. In its opening pages book, I learned that the book's subject, Commander Peter Rodrick and I were --for a short time-- shipmates. While I did not know him (just I did not know many of the 5000 people who were embarked on the ship), he and I were both deployed aboard the USS Kitty Hawk during the cruise where his plane would disappear into the Indian Ocean. I left the ship in the Philippines about two weeks before his fatal crash. Not every reader will feel the same immediate connection with Rodrick, but because I am familiar with the personal, organizational and technical topics that Rodrick's son Stephen weaves together in this book, I can say with this with confidence: he gets everything right.

This is the story of Stephen Rodrick's effort to shed light on father's life. In November, 1979, Commander Peter Rodrick's EA-6B Prowler crashed into the Indian Ocean, killing all four aboard. The accident came at a time when the his squadron's (VAQ-135) deployment aboard the USS Kitty Hawk had been extended. Instead of returning home (the Kitty Hawk to its San Diego homeport and VAQ-135 to NAS Whidbey Island, Washington) that November, the ship and its embarked air wing went to the Indian Ocean as part of the US response to the Iranian hostage crisis. When his father died, 13-year old Stephen had been planning to meet the ship in Hawaii, and ride back to the west coast as part of a traditional "Tiger Cruise" for family members.

Stephen Rodrick provides not one, but three narratives in this book.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on March 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I just finished The Magical Stranger: A Son's Journey into His Father's Life by Stephen Rodrick. I can't remember the last time a book touched me as deeply. When Rodrick was 13 years old, his dad, CDR Pete Rodrick, CO of VAQ-135 `Black Ravens' a EA-6B squadron flying off USS Kitty Hawk was killed in an aviation accident leaving his wife and three children. This book is the story of Stephen trying to better understand his dad and what happened to him.

On the surface, Magical Stranger is a simply amazing book about a son's search for information about the aviation mishap that took the life of his father. But there is much, much more to it than that. In addition to the main story, about the tragic death of his father, Rodrick tells two more intertwined stories; the difficulties his family faced after his dad's death, and the difficulties faced by the current generation of naval aviators and their families. Rodrick manages to tell all three stories in a compelling and engaging way. He keeps them all moving forward and really hooks the reader with all three. Although all three stories are compelling, this last one was particularly interesting as Rodrick managed to connect with the aviators currently assigned to the Squadron his dad commanded to tell their story, flying the same aircraft off of the same carriers as his dad.

To have told even one of the three stories would have made an excellent book. To tell all three this well is really something special. Everyone should read this book.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Matthew T Maxwell on June 1, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Title: The Real Navy Heros - The Navy Wife

I read with great interest "The Magical Stranger" since I was the first Commanding Officer of the VAQ-135 Black Ravens' EA6Bs. I also had the honor of serving in two prior assignments with the author's father Pete Rodrick, a remarkable and very professional Naval officer.

The author Steven Rodrick was a Navy junior, but lost his dad at a very young age. In his search into his fathers life, Steven spent much time on board ship and at Whidbey Island Washington Naval Air Station with the Black Ravens. With this research he did a remarkable job of portraying life in a Naval aviation squadron. His reflections were that of one of us who had lived the life as a profession.

He documents better than any book I have read, the sacrifices of the Navy wife and their families in service to our country. This was epitomized by his very special mother Barbara Rodrick. We often praise our service men without realizing the tremendous contributions of our families to the success and leadership of our service members.

I do feel, however that the author over emphasized the dark side of serving, but that can be expected with his tragic loss at a young age. My command tour with The Black Ravens was the pinnacle of my professional navy career and I had hoped that we built a platform for the world famous Black Ravens. Today they move forward with the squadrons transition to the Boeing EA18G Growler.

"Magical Stranger" is a must read for every Naval Aviator and for our wonderful and supportive Navy wives.

Captain Tom Maxwell (USN ret.)
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Lt (JG) Crewson on June 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover
An esteemed and respected (self entitled) figure in Naval Aviation is a Landing Signal Officer. Their purpose is to grade every landing aboard an aircraft carrier and evaluate the pilot on their performance. A typical point of pride (and comment of preemptive defense) is to say that they are "merely historians delivering only the truth. They take pride to note that being slave to the truth makes them incapable of lying or hiding the truth, even if it can be difficult for the listener to hear or accept.

This reflection is a perfect allegory for Mr. Rodrick's body of work in "Magical Stranger". It would seem that the "Naval Aviation LSO truth" DNA of CDR Pete Rodrick is resident in his son, regardless of the difference in their equally promising lifestyles and careers. Somewhere off the coast of Diego Garcia, the ghost of Pete Rodrick is smiling and enjoying his son's inherent ability to reveal and deliver the absolute truth. Although I must say that the "difficulty of the listener to accept" part does not exist at all here. It is an enjoyable read and will entice any reader with a desire to learn more about author's journey, as well as most of the characters in the book. For in the truth of the struggles of mother, son, father, "Skipper", Aviator, military wife, military child, etc, the book will reveal a universal revelation of the challenges of coming to grips with our past and the desire to turn those revelations into something positive for our future. In others words, There is something in this book that will appeal and resonate with anyone.

Rodrick has a Tim O'Brien-esque manner of tying multiple concurrent stories into a single thread of humanity.
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