Holdefer, Charles 1959-

views updated

Holdefer, Charles 1959-


Born November 27, 1959, in Knoxville, IA. Education: Iowa Writers Workshop, University of Iowa, M.F.A.; University of Paris, Sorbonne, Ph.D.


Home—Paris, France. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer, novelist, reviewer, and educator. Universite de Poitiers, Poitiers, France, instructor in language, 1989—. University of Oregon, Eugene, OR, visiting associate professor, 2007.



Apology for Big Rod, Permanent Press (New York, NY), 1997.

Nice, Permanent Press (Sag Harbor, NY), 2001.

The Contractor, The Permanent Press (Sag Harbor, NY), 2007.

Contributor to books, including the Book of Eros.

Contributor to periodicals, including the New England Review, Aethlon, Paris Transcontinental, Yellow Silk, and North American Review.


Novelist, reviewer, and short-story writer Charles Holdefer is an American author and educator based in Paris, France. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Paris, Sorbonne, and teaches language at the University of Poitiers, where he has been an educator since 1989.

Holdefer's first novel, Apology for Big Rod, is a satirical look at the life of a free-spirited Chicago man who finds that "happiness is the only worthwhile pursuit and the only true standard of morality," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Narrator Judy Gass tells the tale of her uncle, Big Rod, who has recently died while a prisoner in a local jail. Big Rod, however, was not simply a vagabond or ne'er-do-well. Gass fondly describes a relative who endured illness a child and who saw much suffering during the turbulent years of World War II. Changed by these experiences, Big Rod concluded that in a harsh world where life is brief, the pursuit of happiness should trump all other concerns. With little concern for what his friends and neighbors would think, Big Rod took to a series of unlikely business ventures and jobs before finally settling in as a night custodian at a mortuary. A mysterious upturn in Big Rod's income is revealed to originate from a startling source. In this "spare, funny first novel," Big Rod ends his days with a "liberating bang rather than a whimper," observed the Publishers Weekly critic.

Jerry Renfrow, the protagonist of Holdefer's next novel, Nice, personifies the characteristics inherent in the book's title. When he comes home from work to find his wife, Barbara, having sex with a pizza delivery driver, he is more concerned with having inconvenienced them by interrupting their tryst than with the insult and betrayal inflicted upon him. Renfrow calls himself Mr. Nice Guy, and lives his life in accordance with that name. Clinging obstinately to an optimistic, feel-good philosophy of life, he is frequently taken advantage of, abused, and exploited by the people around him. When a dreadful business error results in Renfrow being sent to prison for five years, he begins to change, and his Mr. Nice Guy persona evolves into something harder as his self-imposed innocence gradually falls away. Booklist reviewer John Green called the book a "truly eccentric novel," concluding that its "well-earned humor and poignant story will reward readers with an unusually compelling hero."

Holdefer's work takes a more serious turn with his third novel, The Contractor. Drawn from the modern-day scandals of the war on terror and American treatment of captured enemy combatants, Holdefer tells the story of George Young, a Gulf War veteran and government contractor who works as a freelance civilian interrogator at a remote island facility named Omega. Bemused at the turn his life has taken, Young lives in this lush but isolated tropical environment with his wife and two children and pursues his grim employment with efficiency but no joy. When an enemy prisoner dies at the hands of Young and a brutal coworker, George's bland complacency is shattered, and he begins to seriously question the larger context of the war, the treatment of prisoners, and America's changing role in the world. In doing so, he considers his own activities and reinvents his own identity.

In an interview with Geoffrey Pitcher posted on the author's home page, Holdefer explained his motivation in writing The Contractor: "I wrote this as a concerned American who thinks we've taken a seriously wrong turn in our policy toward torture. It's a part of the conversation we're having with the rest of the world and with ourselves."

Though deeply critical of the U.S. military and the American interrogation camps, "this dramatic thriller is more a finely tuned character study of a man in personal crisis," observed a Publishers Weekly critic. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called The Contractor "a little diffuse, but stylish, fiercely funny and frightening," and noted that the character of George is "thoughtful and likable," while Holdefer "makes his self-interrogations convincing without letting them become ponderous." Booklist contributor David Pitt named the novel a "compelling mix of thriller, psychodrama, and, yes, political commentary."



Booklist, March 15, 2001, John Green, review of Nice, p. 1354; September 1, 2007, David Pitt, review of The Contractor, p. 50.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2007, review of The Contractor.

Publishers Weekly, September 1, 1997, review of Apology for Big Rod, p. 97; March 12, 2001, review of Nice, p. 62; September 3, 2007, review of The Contractor, p. 38.


Charles Holdefer Home Page,http://www.charlesholdefer.com (July 25, 2008).

Iowa Summer Writing Festival Web site,http://www.continuetolearn.uiowa.edu/iswfest/ (July 25, 2008), biography of Charles Holdefer.

Loaded Questions Web log,http://loadedquestions.blogspot.com/ (October 22, 2007), Kelly Hewitt, interview with Charles Holdefer.