Dead End in Norvelt
by Jack Gantos
Mr. Huffer owns the funeral parlor that sponsors Jack's baseball team, and, more importantly, he's Bunny's dad.
Gantos (the author) really has fun with Mr. Huffer's description, making him seem like the perfect person for the job: his suit is "the color of black lungs" and "spongy" (5.2), and he smells like "pickled onions" (5.2). Are you charmed, yet? Wait until you hear that he also has a limp handshake and smells like rotted meat—on top of the pickled onions.
In a nutshell, he's a creepy dude and everything about him just screams death. No wonder he doesn't seem very sincere when he comforts people at funerals, resembling a human teapot with his "[c]lassic one-hand-on-hip mournful pose while his other hand reached out to pat someone on the shoulder" (9.97).
We quickly start getting the idea that this "humble, sad-man" pose is just pretense (23.30). Turns out, Mr. Huffer is actually just in it for the money. Take cremations: he hates them, since they don't make his business nearly as much money as a funeral with a "casket and all the pricey trimmings" (8.34).
To boost his income, Mr. Huffer starts selling the unoccupied houses (unoccupied because their owners are recently deceased) to the town of Eleanor, WV. He plans to re-locate there, because the town has more people—which means more people to die. Oh, and he's also got plans to build a development called "Hufferville" on the empty land left behind in Norvelt.
Like Jack's Dad, Mr. Huffer represents the more capitalistic, individualist mindset, and not the more communitarian spirit upon which Norvelt was founded. He doesn't actually do anything illegal, but you definitely get the sense that he's not too concerned with the community. And the biggest problem? He has no sense of history. He thinks Norvelt is just a "museum," and, well, he doesn't see the point of museum. He'd rather just sell off all that old stuff—as long as he could get a good price for it.