North Minneapolis native Pauline Knaeble Williams transports readers to that part of the city in 1944 and shows she knows how to both break and heal hearts in her debut novel, “Finding Hollis.” The book begins with a crash and a whisper, as Frances, a young white woman, witnesses the death of a black woman who is struck by a truck as she steps off a trolley. Rushing to help the dying woman, Frances is the recipient of her two last words: “Find Hollis.”
The incident’s impact on Frances is masterfully portrayed, beginning with the details of how the world looks, sounds and feels to her in the hours and days after the shocking experience (a familiar elm stops Frances dead in her tracks) and continuing with the account of how she seeks to honor the dead woman’s last wish. In pursuit of Hollis, Frances crosses racial barriers to forge emotional bonds with the dead woman, Hazel, and with those who loved her.
The woman’s last request becomes the thread that mends lives and weaves together not just the worlds of black and white but, particularly for Hazel’s bereaved and memorably portrayed fiancé, the realms of broken past and promising future. Ultimately, “Finding Hollis” is a novel in which two words transcend a mere request to become a legacy.