The allusive title in Terri Giuliano Long’s debut novel, In Leah’s Wake, contemplates a variety of connotations, multiple ripples of meaning which contribute to the overall intensity of this deeply moving psychological family drama.
For this particular work, I like Oxford’s definition of a “wake” as “turbulent air left behind by a body in flight.” The body in flight here is Harvard-bound soccer star Leah. What she is flying from is her youth, her innocence, and her father’s insistence that she do her very best to grab that Harvard acceptance as she sails through a winning season. Then Leah falls in love with bad boy Todd, going from “most popular” to “drop out” in a handful of fraught weeks.
The turbulence Leah creates slices to ribbons the happy picture of a perfect family of four. Mom holds popular success seminars, Dad brings in the ample paycheck that pays for the family’s privileged life, and adoring little sister Justine does her best to keep Leah from slipping away. But slip away Leah does, not with one quick break but in a series of increasingly tense actions that lead her forever away from who she used to be and what she used to want. Every person in her family and the widening circle around them will have to pay the price in their own shattered illusions.
In this quietly harrowing novel, every day brings a new degree of reckoning. The author’s skill with multiple points of view allows her to foreground each character with expert ease. There are no stereotypes here, no good guys or bad guys. Sure, Todd’s what many would call a bad boy, but he loves Leah to disarming distraction, which makes him easy to forgive. Coming of age never comes easy, but this novel wants to explore more than a single painful maturation. It equally explores the wake, and that is its triumph.