The Last Hoffman

Written by Gwen Tuinman
Review by Gail M. Murray

Set in the pulp and papermill town of Narrows Falls, Gwen Tuinman’s debut novel encompasses environmental stewardship much like Erin Brockovich. Floyd Hoffman is the whistleblower who exposes the carcinogenic toxins the townspeople live and die with.

This touching story is about struggle and second chances.  Floyd’s inner struggle is to connect with his teenage son, Dean; his external struggle, to stop the mill poisoning the town. Quiet and introverted, Floyd, who loves history, reading, and Walt Whitman, stands out in a blue-collar environment.

The dual timeline alternates between the 1980s and Dean’s illness and the 1960s Floyd reconciling his past.  Opening in a 1953 flashback, his strict German father announces their move to care for his ailing grandfather, abandoning him at 17. Wary and forced to grow up fast, Floyd becomes reclusive. High-spirited Bonnie Brookman changes his life.  “In that moment, he was completely lost in the beauty of being seen. She looked past his dreary exterior and shy awkwardness, straight into his very heart.”

At Brewster’s Gorge, we first glimpse Bonnie’s reckless behavior, leaping from the gorge into the river below. She brings out his passion and protectiveness. Later her moods shift between despondency and euphoria.

For all the novel features characters that are alone, it is a story driven by human connections. This reader became invested in the backstory of Floyd handling Bonnie’s mental illness, giving of himself to keep her secret. “Bonnie had begged, ‘Let me be his angel. Please Floyd. Don’t tell him I’m broken.’”

With vivid descriptions, natural dialogue and in-depth characterization, Tuinman compels us to look beyond the surface. For Dean’s girlfriend, Tammy, a teen pregnancy becomes the stimulus for change. Her child, Jody, is the last Hoffman and Floyd’s redemption. The ending is triumphant.