The Pueblo Chieftain
Tragedy teaches youth painful lessons
“The Whim-Wham Man,” by John Dwaine McKenna, Rhyolite Press, $15
This short book with the odd title is the hard-to-put-down story of a 15-year-old youth who grows up in a hurry when a grisly tragedy strikes his family. Now an adult, the main character looks back at that pain-filled time and questions the decisions he made and the actions he took in the grip of anger and his desire for revenge.
The title comes from another name for a “traveling man” of the 1940s, in this case, an unfortunate who could scarcely speak and who made a few coins by whittling small animals from wood.
“The Whim-Wham Man” takes place a few miles north of Colorado Springs.
The author, John Dwaine McKenna of Colorado Springs, also wrote “The Neversink Chronicles,” a collection of stories published in 2011 by Rhyolite Press. The chronicles are about the people displaced when a system of 24 reservoirs and 345 miles of underground tunnels was built to provide water for New York City. Neversink is a valley in the area where the construction occurred.
“The Whim-Wham Man” is available at Cowboy Supply, 300 N. Main St. in Pueblo, at bookstores and from the publisher, www.rhyolitepress.com.
Note: The following review by Norma Engleberg appeared in The Tri-Lakes Tribune, published in Monument, Colorado by Our Colorado News Corp. Used by permission.
Special MBR No 2
Novel Set in Husted tells a difficult story
Norma Engelberg email@example.com
Posted: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 11:06 am
John Dwaine McKenna’s newest novel starts out with understatement. In the words of 15-year-old Jamey McGoran, “The Whim-Wham man’s story ain’t easy to tell.” It wasn’t easy to write, either. As the author says on the book’s back cover, “There’s no sanitary way to write about murder.”
“Sometimes I only wrote a paragraph a day,” he said. “It took me weeks to write the murder scene.”
In fact, in its short 136 pages the book packs a lot of punches both literally and figuratively. This coming-of-age/murder mystery is a fast read but the reading is almost as hard as the telling.
Set in 1940 in the small town of Husted on what is now on the U.S. Air Force Academy, “The Whim-Wham Man” starts out with a glimpse at life toward the end of the Great Depression when times were still tough but the economy was starting to mend. It wasn’t mending fast enough for young McGoran, his sister Catherine, his proud and independent mother and father, a man who thinks with his fists because his brain is usually pickled with drink.
The book is written from Jamey McGoran’s point of view and he does “impending doom” really well. The reader can feel something coming from that very first sentence but, when disaster finally hits, it’s still a surprise.
McKenna, who lives in Colorado Springs, gives the reader a feel for that bygone age and when McGoran drives the family’s old Model T from Husted to the Springs, he describes places readers can still see on South Tejon, Nevada Avenue and Sierra Madre Street. The book is well researched and seeing the area through McGoran’s eyes brings it back to life.
This is not a book for everyone but mystery lovers will appreciate the spare and concise narrative; there’s no wasted words and every scene leads directly to the conclusion. The book is written as the first in a detective series as the lead character grows up to become a Colorado Springs detective with a mission.
McKenna based his idea for the story on a short paragraph he read in a newspaper in 2011 about then Gov. Ritter pardoning Joe Arridy, a simple-minded man who was falsely executed for murder in 1939. Arridy is the basis for “The Whim-Wham Man” character but the similarities between the book and the history end there.
“The Whim-Wham Man” is published by Rhyolite Press and can be purchased online at www.rhyolitepress.com. McKenna’s first book, The Neversink Chronicles,” is a Colorado Independent Publishers Association EVVY award winner.