In Herschel’s Wake: A Memoir
Boyle & Dalton (2022)
Reviewed by Leigh Kimberly Zoby for Reader Views 01/2023
“In Herschel’s Wake” is a refreshingly heartfelt memoir about a dysfunctional parent and how his adult children deal with his sudden passing. Three estranged siblings reunite once they receive an email notification of Herschel Wohls’ death. Herschel’s children, Michael, Tobias, and Anais, travel thousands of miles to a remote Caribbean Island to bury their atheist father in a proper Jewish burial. Chaos ensues as they rush to file the death certificate, build a coffin, find a suitable burial spot, and bury the body themselves. While on the quest to fulfill their father’s final wishes, emotions come into view. Abandonment, resentment, and insecurities are faced. Hilarious stories are recalled, embarrassing secrets are exposed, and tears are shed as the family finds peace in each other.
Herschel Wohl was a charismatic pot-smoking womanizer who lived an eccentric lifestyle while trying to complete a manuscript that spans decades of writing. Author Michael Wohl masterfully celebrates his father’s memory with brutal honesty. The good, bad, and ugly all come to life through flashbacks intertwined with the present. The reader witnesses moments of utter irresponsibility, hardships, and bad decisions yet will laugh the entire time. My favorite recollection is Herschel driving his children in a Volkswagon Bug during a hurricane deluge. I could only imagine seeing the car bob its way through the current to solid ground.
“In Herschel’s Wake” deals with difficult emotions in a relaxed manner that pushes the reader to dig deeper and discover more. There are so many “you have got to be kidding me” moments I could not stop reading. I died when Herschel’s pornography collection was located on a hard drive. What adult child wants to find their parent’s porn? Gross. Uncomfortable subjects are approached delicately with humor. Some are rightfully covered up so as not to expose others to the reality of their father’s porn fascination. The characters represent relatable dysfunctional family dynamics. The banter often resembles slapstick comedy. “In Herschel’s Wake” will keep you thinking long after the story ends. Sometimes the best thing a person can do for their child is remove themself from their life. It is a hard truth to face. Emotional scars take time to heal. Michael Wohl states that he will remain furious with his father, but has accepted him for who he was. Any person struggling with grief in a dysfunctional family would benefit from reading this story.