Novel deals with aftermath of Vietnam

Coupeville author and writing mentor Molly Cook. - Courtesy of Molly Cook
Coupeville author and writing mentor Molly Cook.
— image credit: Courtesy of Molly Cook

There are many people with ties to the military on the island. There are those who are currently serving and those who wear the title of veteran. There are those with moms and dads in the service, best friends and neighbors. And then there are those who wait patiently, or rather impatiently, for their husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend to return home safely.

Coupeville novelist, poet and mentor Molly Larson Cook is one of these people. She was an officer’s wife during the Vietnam War and knows many veterans and knew a few men who never made it back. She knows that everyone with a tie to the military has a story, and a few years ago she was challenged to tell a version of hers.

Cook recently finished her second novel, “The Greening of Coral McCabe.” Cook calls the book a tale of aftermath, specifically focused on the consequences of the Vietnam War on those who served and those who were left at home. Her protagonist, Coral McCabe, is a young botanist whose significant other was killed in combat.

The call to write the novel came in 1995 when Cook was at the Fishtrap Writing Conference in the Wallowa Mountains. She was involved in a discussion about the war with other writers, and a man stated that he didn’t believe women could write about it. He said women couldn’t tell the men’s stories, but Cook knew better. She replied that women didn’t need the men’s stories because they had stories of their own to share.

Later that day, another author pulled Cook aside and applauded her for voicing her opinion.

“She told me she liked my comment, then looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Now you have to write it,’” Cook said. “I’ve been writing it ever since. I plan to contact the author and tell her it’s done.”

Cook said when she began the novel, its words started out political and angry. But as time went on and revisions were made, the book took on a different feel.

“I knew I didn’t want to write an angry screed about war, though I’m certainly opposed to it,” she said. “I wanted to write about losses in general and the effect of deep losses on our lives whether they happen through war or in some other way. More than that, I wanted to write about closure and the road back home.”

Cook said the novel is philosophical and funny at times, and though the setting is the war, the true conflict is the battle raging in McCabe’s own heart and the steps she must take to resolve it. She said the book ended having a more hopeful resolution than she had originally planned.

“In the end, hope is what we have,” Cook said. “Billie Holiday said it so well: ‘Pray for the future. Hope for the best.’”

The most challenging piece of the novel for Cook was discovering McCabe’s voice and finding out exactly what she would want to say.

“I understood the basic story, but the novel is not about me, not autobiographical,” Cook said. “Finding the voice is like chipping away at a piece of stone, uncovering layers.”

Cook will be reading from her book at May’s Writers on the Rock event sponsored by the Whidbey Island Arts Council.

She’ll be joined by jazz musician David Gregor of Deja Blooze, a group that regularly plays in Langley and at other venues around the island. Cook said she’s frequented blues clubs all over the country and enjoys writers who can incorporate music and flow into their words.

“When I was invited to do the reading I talked to David Gregor right away,” Cook said. “He’s the blues man for the evening, and I am delighted.”

The event will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 25, at Whidbey Pies Cafe in Greenbank. The reading is free or by donation to the arts council. Writers on the Rock helps support the council’s literary art programs such as Jim Freeman’s famous poetry slams.

“The Greening of Coral McCabe” has yet to be published, but Cook said she’s in the query stage right now with an agent.

“Its somewhere in that dreaded but exciting limbo between my computer and a great publishing deal,” she said.

Cook’s first novel, “Listen,” is in local bookstores and can be purchased online.


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