Unwelcome changes open door to redemption in a small Florida town

Heart of Palm, by Laura Lee Smith. Grove Press. 496 pages. Trade paperback $16.00.

This is the one I’ve been waiting for. The big surprise. A debut novel set in Florida that has it all: family, community, dreams, secrets, the best kind of local color, tragedy, humor, hatred, compassion. Love. Change. HOPCoverArt

It’s 2008. Arla Bolton Bravo, of the fashionable St. Augustine Boltons, is sixty-two years old. Her no-account husband Dean, who fathered their four children, has been long gone. When she chose Dean without even considering more appropriate suitors, her parents could hardly bear the disgrace. The Bravos were riff-raff, troublemakers.

When handsome, reckless Dean took Arla to the moonshine town of Utina, just outside of St. Augustine but culturally light-years away, the fulfillment of a promise that Arla had carried into her eighteenth year – the promise of being truly special – was poisoned. When he accidentally severed her foot during a boating frolic, their relationship was double-doomed. How could they survive her handicap and his guilt?

How could they, Dean and his older sons in particular, survive the accidental death of the youngest child, Will, whom Dean had egged on to drink himself silly as a proof of manhood? It wasn’t long after that disaster that Dean took off.

Arla had purchased a local restaurant, Uncle Henry’s Bar and Grill, and Frank had been its nonstop manager for two decades. It was a modest success, enough to keep them going what with the oldest child – troubled, unmarried Sofia – coming in early each morning to scour the place from the crud and spills of the day before. Uncle Henry’s was notable for its beautiful view along the Intercoastal Waterway. When its next door rival, Morgan’s Fish Camp and Fry House, burned down, Frank hired Morgan Moore to assist him and put Morgan’s most popular items on the menu.

Frank had a pile of deferred dreams, but he never seemed to be able to go beyond meeting his family responsibilities. One of those dreams had died when Carson had stolen the beautiful Elizabeth whom Frank had adored in high school.

Laura Lee Smith

Laura Lee Smith

Carson, his older brother, was much more ambitious. He had pieced together some education and credentials, eventually opening up a financial management firm. Until the economy went south, he was doing well, but then he slipped into pushing hollow new investments to pay the promised income of those already gone bad. He hated himself for running a Ponzi scheme and frantically sought a way to dig out of the hole.

The way comes. An Atlanta-based real estate development company has its eye on the combined properties of Morgan and the Bravos, which include Uncle Henry’s as well as  Arla’s dilapidated but imposingly-sized home that Dean had incongruously named Aberdeen. The fear of change depresses Arla and her dependent forty-three year old daughter, and to some extent Frank – so fully identified with Uncle Henry’s. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 7, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly; the January 8 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions; and the January 29 Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter edition, click here Florida Weekly – L.L. Smith 1 and here Florida Weekly – L.L.Smith 2

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