Booklist Review of Haven’s Wake

Haven, the aptly named patriarch of a rural Mennonite family in eastern Nebraska, dies in a bizarre tractor accident, which reunites his family for several days in July 2009. Disparate and even dysfunctional, the Grebel clan is forced onto the farm’s close quarters where long-ignored secrets and tragedies threaten to surface, despite the desperation of Haven’s widow, Elsa, to keep them buried. Will Elsa finally forgive her son for renouncing the Mennonite religion and lifestyle? Will brothers Jonathan and Jeffrey let a sibling’s horrific but decades-old death tear them further apart? Will granddaughter Anna June cope with the loss of her best friend? Randolph’s (A Sandhills Ballad, 2009) examination of these conflicts, especially the shirking of religion, is at times heavy-handed and obvious. During her more subtle moments, however, Randolph thoughtfully contemplates individuality in a community of conformity, truth in a world of evasiveness, and honesty in a sea of hurt. With prose that vivifies the intricate patchwork of characters and captures the landscape’s simplicity, Haven’s Wake explores “the various attempts to explain the unexplainable,” including family, faith, and death.