Book Review: Tholocco’s Wake
Reviewed by Kathy L. Brown
A fateful journey where past and present collide
What future is even possible?
Tholocco’s Wake follows Emma through a tangle of memories as she journeys to be at her estranged husband’s hospital bedside. Patrick has been shot during the 1968 attempted assassination of Senator Eugene McCarthy.
Each waystation along Emma’s route becomes an opportunity to process, mourn, and possibly move on from the trauma that ultimately ended their marriage. The primary storyline of Tholocco’s Wake is the courtship and married life of Emma and Patrick.
They meet as high school seniors and quickly fall in love. Patrick is a decisive leader, as well as a kind and considerate person who values Emma’s intelligence and ambition. A sheltered newcomer to Bemidji, Minnesota, Emma is smitten with the charismatic quarterback.
However, their university careers are cut short by the start of World War II. Patrick is determined to join the Army Air Corps immediately. Emma leaves school too. But Patrick isn’t allowed to enlist, and a long string of disappointments for the young man with so much promise begins.
While Emma ultimately achieves her goal to become a doctor, her professional advancement is hampered by Patrick’s military service. He embarks just as the Korean conflict looms. When Patrick is seriously injured during a training exercise, a cascade of health issues overwhelms the young family. Ultimately, the marriage ends, miring Emma in fifteen years of regret.
A secondary storyline frames Emma’s recollections: In 1968, her now-grown daughter telephones with devastating news. Patrick, Senator Eugene McCarthy’s cousin & chief of staff, was shot during an attempt on the senator’s life. Because Emma and Patrick are still legally married, she travels from Minnesota to the hospital in Atlanta to make medical decisions. Emma must overcome her own emotional barriers to take on this responsibility as well as a host of practical impediments to reaching Patrick in time.
Tholocco’s Wake is steeped in engaging historic detail, capturing the sights, sounds, and feel of the 1940s. In the secondary storyline, 1968 Emma is a sassy delight, presenting a self-confidence to the world that perhaps she doesn’t completely own, at least where her family is concerned.
And we can’t help but root for the elder Emma to find resolution here. Will they kiss and make up, but under Emma’s terms? Will she finally ditch her Patrick baggage and move on? Will death force a reckoning, whether Emma is ready or not? As the story reaches its climax, the reader wants Emma to step up and embrace her change.
However, younger Emma’s voice doesn’t always ring too authentically. While the past is always viewed through a filter, Bemidji’s perfection adds distance between the reader and the story. Also, Emma encounters little push back to her medical career plans. No one is surprised she has them in the first place nor chides her for abandoning them to work in a defense plant, but Emma becomes a doctor while she is also a wife and mother. It seems her medical school studies, internship, and residence would have been fraught with struggles. But this personal story, away from Patrick, plays little part in the narrative.
The novel has a good balance of summary and scene, and most scenes are well structured. Something of interest is at stake in each scene, from subtle and personal issues, such as whether these two young people will find each other at a party, to dramatic events, such as whether the kids will survive a freak arctic blast snowstorm.
Tholocco’s Wake is replete with detailed description of settings, sense detail, and characters’ personal appearance. While they may feel that the narrative is missing a few things, World War II historical fiction fans will find much to enjoy in this bittersweet trip through the past.
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Genre: Historical Fiction / WWII
Print Length: 244 pages
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