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Likely Stories: The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 & ¼ Years Old by Hendrik Groen


Hilarious story of a real live curmudgeon who enjoys annoying his neighbors.

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83-1/4 Years Old by Hendrik himself is a story as funny as you could imagine.  As I researched for this review, I learned Groen has a sequel due out in a couple of months.  Actually, Hendrik Groen is a pseudonym of Peter de Smet, a Dutch writer. 

Hendrik is what one might call a curmudgeon of the first order.  He has founded a club known as, “The Old-But-Not-Dead Club.”  He writes, “Mrs. Visser has invited me in for a cup of tea tomorrow afternoon.  I should have declined, if only because of how she smells, but I said I would love to stop by for a minute.  There goes my afternoon.  What a wimp I am.  On the spur of the moment I couldn’t think of a good excuse, so I’ll have to endure the mindless jabbering and the dry sponge cake.  How she manages to turn the moisture of cake into dusty cardboard is beyond me.  You need three cups of tea per slice to wash it down.  Tomorrow I will take a bold stand and turn down the second helping.  Start a new life” (5). 

Hendrik held a minor position on the town council, which he took quite seriously.  He annoyed the other members of the board, so he was sacked.  However, he found ways to drive the council to distraction.  Hendrik writes, “Not long ago a group of residents wanted bingo moved to Wednesday nights because Saturdays are for family visits—which is hogwash actually.  The real motivation was probably whatever program was on TV on Saturdays.  The Wednesday night choir promptly objected and proposed Monday night, which was quashed by the pool club.  The pool club thought Friday night was a better option. 

That met with stiff resistance from the Feel Good Fitness people, who were too tuckered out from their afternoon exercises to face the exertion of a game of bingo in the evening” (34).  What must have been a serious argument threw the residents of the association into a near minor civil war when, “our own King Solomon, Mrs. Stelwagen, decided that everything should stay as it was for now.  Relations within the committee have suffered as a result.  The knives are out” (35).

Hendrik liked to be alone.  He writes, “The trick, therefore, is to be circumspect about who you end up sitting next to in the Conversation Lounge.  Many of the seats are off-limits: they are reserved for the season-ticket holders, the people who always sit in the same chair and make a huge fuss if someone dares to sit down in ‘their’ spot.  As for the allocation of the remaining seats, timing is all.  If you get there too early there’s no choice to make, and if your too late, there’s no choice left.  If you and a couple of your friends go and sit at another table—there are tables galore, after all—you’re chided for being unsociable.  It may seem innocuous, but people get miffed if you don’t join their group.  They think you’re deliberately avoiding them, as if they were pariahs” (124-125).

When my time comes to join the Hendrik’s of the world, I will have to carefully select the living quarters for my final days.  The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83-1/4 years Old by Hendrik Groen is a hoot.  5 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.