Hilary Holladay, “Tipton”
Oklahoma to Virginia: A First Novel Revisiting the Second World War
It’s the name of a small town in Oklahoma, and a group home for children there, and now the first novel by Virginia writer Hilary Holladay: “Tipton.” The tale was never intended to be very long; Holladay started writing it as a short story about a teenaged orphan making his uncertain way past adolescence. But as she added characterization and explored the nuances of Ross Gentry’s little world and the others he shares it with in the days following the Dust Bowl, new plots began to unfurl; young housemother Alice Williams began to take the spotlight; life on the plains proved to be pretty complicated.
As she went about her own life, Holladay wrote, “My thoughts returned to the people at the Tipton Home. Day after day, week after week, they accompanied me ... I listened to them; I let them lead me along.”
The result travels beyond Oklahoma to Holladay’s native state, weaving installments of poetry into richly lyrical prose and a narrative peppered with uncertainty. “Walking aimlessly around the front lawn, she wondered if her life would stretch on like this, flowering and withering, bursts of pleasure followed by spells of self-doubt and longing.” The “she” in that sentence is Alice, but who among us hasn’t felt similarly adrift on occasion? A dose of indecision, and awareness of inability to steer life as we might like around unexpected major events like wars, helps make a tale of long ago feel rewardingly timeless.
Speaking of literature, author Dorothy Wickenden will be signing copies of her New York Times bestselling “Nothing Daunted” at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum on May 2, in conjunction with the museum’s current exhibit “Madonnas of the Prairie.” It’s an account of female intrepidity well worth exploring.