Sunday, November 22, 2020

Millicent Glenn's Last Wish by Tori Whitaker, a multi-period novel about family secrets and family ties

Tori Whitaker is an avid reader of novels that juggle past and present-day timelines, highlighting worthy examples on social media and penning a feature article on multi-period fiction (Historical Novels Review, Issue 83). In her debut, she demonstrates mastery of this popular historical fiction format herself. 

Her heroine is Millicent Glenn, a spry widow of 90 who readers will come to care for right away. Family means everything to Millie, so when her daughter Jane moves back home to Cincinnati in 2015, and granddaughter Kelsey announces her pregnancy, she couldn’t be happier. Millie’s relationship with Jane is strained, and she knows that to repair it, she must find the courage to reveal a traumatic time from the Glenns’ past and hope for Jane’s forgiveness.

Back in mid-century Ohio, Millie is a former tenement girl of German heritage newly married to her sweetheart, Dennis Glenn. Remembering her mother’s admonishment to earn her own income, she’s excited to help Dennis spread the word about his prefab home dealership. When she becomes pregnant after years of trying, they feel their prayers are answered. Millie’s dreams of a large family never materialize, though, for a terrible reason that becomes a secret too painful to reveal.

Both timelines are equally gripping, and the shifts between them keep the suspense level high. Whitaker notices the small details that make the 1950s Midwest feel tangible, such as metal milk-delivery boxes, radio soap operas, and two-tone Chevrolets. In addition to nostalgic elements of vintage d├ęcor and pastimes, though, the story illustrates the weight of expectations women faced, pressured to be perfect wives and mothers while seeing their career hopes stifled. Millie can’t even open a savings account without Dennis’s permission (sadly, historically accurate). This tenderly written, fast-moving tale of marriage, women’s friendships, and family reconciliation is satisfying and extremely moving.

Millicent Glenn's Last Wish was published by Lake Union in October 2020. There are over 8000 ratings on Amazon, which is pretty amazing; the novel was chosen for their First Reads program over the summer, which got it into many readers' hands early. I reviewed it from a PDF for November's Historical Novels Review.

If you're interested in dual-timeline novels, Tori Whitaker's article "Multi-Period Novels: The Keys to Weaving Together Two Stories from Different Time Periods" will be worth reading. She describes several plot patterns used in these stories and interviews authors Chanel Cleeton, Jane Johnson, James Carroll, and Ariel Lawhon about their writing.  The other day, the author announced a deal for her upcoming book, another multi-generational novel set in Prohibition-era Detroit and modern Kentucky. I await it eagerly.

4 comments:

  1. I read this and I enjoyed her independent streak at a time when it was not commonplace.

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    1. Glad you also enjoyed it - I agree.

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  2. Thank you for this wonderful review! It’s extra special coming right in my birthday, too. ☺️

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    1. Hope you have a wonderful birthday!

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