Book Review: Turbulent Wake

“No one wants to admit that we are all fucked up, that we are all imperfect, vain, frightened, too easily flattered, so readily tempted. Christ, I sound like the Old Testament.
And yet we go on with our fictions, our made-up lives, trying to mirror some television or internet ideal of who we should be, what we should look like, how we should act.”

Turbulent Wake, by Paul E. Hardisty, opens in Canada where a young boy, Warren, is lying in bed hoping for the snowfall that will transform his neighbourhood. He is ‘warm and safe and excited’. He is at the beginning of a long life that he will recount in snapshots, explaining its course and decisions made with hindsight.

Each chapter tells the story of a key event in the boy’s life between his birth and his death. Interspersed with these are the reflections of his estranged son, Ethan, who is reading through the manuscripts, found in a house left to him in his father’s will. As each story is finished lingering questions are answered about Ethan’s childhood and the father he has long resented for repeatedly sending him away.

“You never really know anyone. Especially the ones you love.”

Ethan is an insurance salesman in his forties whose career has stalled. He lives in London, is divorced from the professionally successful Maria and hated by their ten year old daughter. He knows that his life is a mess but not how to fix it. He feels emasculated. Maria wanted a man who would willingly help with childcare and housework. She regards Ethan as selfish for not fitting her ideal.

“Everything now seems an exercise in control – hold back my emotions, rein in my temper, restrain the physical side of myself, that part of me that always felt the most natural, the most real.”

Warren led a life that took him around the world. As a child, his family moved regularly. Growing up, he wanted to be: a soldier, a pilot, a writer. Eventually he ends up an engineer. Warren survives horrific incidents and personal tragedy. He tries to be a good person but often fails. Around him he observes a world being increasingly ravaged and reflects on the effects of man’s egocentric behaviour.

“the forces of greed were inestimably more powerful than the endeavours of any one person.”

“he knew that none of these good and perfect places was safe from the cutting and mining and the plunder”

“what was irreplaceable had become inconsequential”

In learning of Warren’s personal life, viewing him through a lens few children are capable of accepting is their parent, Ethan’s life view subtly shifts. Warren comes to question how anyone can channel their actions to benefit those left behind given their and societies’ imperfections. He acknowledges his mistakes, recognised in hindsight. Warren speaks to Ethan through his writing as doing so in person would have required his son to listen without prejudice – something loved ones, those directly affected, can rarely achieve.

Neither Warren nor Ethan are inherently bad men but they struggle to fit into the expectations of the women and children in their lives. An underlying thread throughout the story is the change in how men are required to be.

“All he wanted to do was make her proud, be worthy of her. He wanted to change. That’s the secret. You have to want to change. The only thing was, she couldn’t change him enough.”

“who is this guy she thought she wanted? Be all the things a traditional man is supposed to be: strong, protective, financially secure, generous, all that shit. But she also wanted me to be, what can I say? […] I was never the man she thought I could become”

The writing is succinct and absorbing with thought-provoking themes and threads. Although many of these could be viewed as dispiriting there is a hopefulness in the direction they take. Pleasure and appreciation in the natural world is granted significance despite how it is being stripped and despoiled. There is a reminder that, whatever mistakes have been made, while there is life there is a chance to do better moving forward.

An affecting story of relationships and the inherent difficulty in openly communicating with those whose opinion is valued. More than this though it is a wider exploration of what position an individual chooses to occupy in their world, and the legacy this leaves for those who come after.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Orenda.

3 comments on “Book Review: Turbulent Wake

  1. BookerTalk says:

    I get the feeling there is a deep sadness to this novel, the fact that father and son don’t have the kind of relationship that enabled them to talk to each other.

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