Tag Archives: 1960s

Florida, families, and fruit trees anchor a dazzling fiction set in the early 1960s

Goldens Are Here, by Andrew Furman. Green Writers Press. 364 pages. Trade paperback $21.95.

There are so many strands and points of interest in this fine, highly original novel that it’s hard to know where to begin. In the background is the Cuban Missile Crisis, the blooming (technically and economically) of Florida’s Space Coast, and the Civil Rights struggle. In the foreground is the Florida citrus industry in the early 1960s as represented by a body of small grove owners along or near the Indian River.  

In these communities, the white folks own the groves and the black folks perform much of the labor. Race relations are in an uneasy truce, a tangle of old habits and shaky dependencies. A great freeze threatens to destroy the groves, even if insects don’t.

The central character, Isaac Golden, has abandoned his career as a physician and set out on a grand adventure with his wife Melody and their two young children – Sarah and Eli. Moving away from the Philadelphia area, where their Jewish identity was readily reinforced, they have settled in a small town with only one other Jewish family and a considerable ride to Jewish institutions. The Goldens are clearly outsiders, and the way they are addressed by many of the townspeople carries a brand of politeness that barely veils a cultural tradition of anti-Semitism.

Professor Andrew Furman
Credit Benjamin Rusnak

Prof. Furman portrays how Isaac and Melody deal with their displacement and discomfort with skill and sensitivity.

The story of Isaac’s attempt to develop improved breeds of oranges becomes a continuing lesson in citrus science. Prof. Furman provides a large specialized vocabulary that is the basis for reader understanding of Isaac’s mission and of the industry he has entered. This material and the extensive exposition should fall flat, but somehow the author makes it sing. He does this by capturing Isaac’s poetic passion, especially his interest in avoiding chemical pesticides and employing means of protecting his groves using natural, nontoxic agents.

Well, he is spending more money than he is likely to make. Melody develops a roadside business selling from her vegetable garden, from the groves, and from the kitchen – her wonderful pies add much-needed income to the Goldens’ enterprise. . . .

To see the entire review, as it appears in the August 22, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 23 Naples, Bonita Spring, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Goldens Are Here


Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors, Jewish Themes

Florida’s soul music heritage comes alive, as do its makers

Florida Soul: From Ray Charles to KC and the Sunshine Band, by John Capouya. University Press of Florida. 374 pages. Hardcover $24.95.

For a scholarly enterprise, this book is notable for its high energy and conversational tone. One can feel the author’s obvious excitement over the opportunity to celebrate the dazzling contributions of those in the art and business of soul music. It’s a sizeable group of talented and inventive characters who make longer or shorter appearances in this lively slice of Florida’s cultural history. Interestingly, though soul is thought of as a sturdy branch in the tree of Afro-American music, Mr. Capouya makes it clear that white performers and other white music industry professionals played major roles in the regional and national success of this musical genre. 

Mr. Capouya’s chaptering system links the recording artists and other music professionals with key ciites, large and small, in the history of the genres development and significant presence. His titles add up to a map of the world we are exploring, but without an actual map. Clearly, the state has been saturated with native born or adopted Floridians who build a musical tradition. Of course, Soul did not grow out of nothing. The author explores its roots in gospel music, its intimate connections with R & B (rhythm and blues), and its sometimes unwelcome offspring, disco.


Not only does John Capouya provide vivid career biographies of the major players who achieved significant record sales, in many chapters he allows them to speak for themselves by providing the results of extended interviews. Some achieved stellar (bankable) accomplishments in many fields: as lead instrumentalists and singers, as back-up musicians, as songwriters, as nightclub owners, as record producers, as managers and as tour arrangers.

Soon or later during soul’s heydays in the Sixties and Seventies, everybody seems to have worked with or at least appreciated (by imitation) everyone else. It was a vibrant community of music-makers in which a person was a headliner one day and part of a back-up group the next. Although competitive, these men and women fostered a sense of mutual support. Only a few were committed loners. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 27, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and several September 28 local editions, click here:  https://naples.floridaweekly.com/pageview/viewer/2017-09-28#page=49

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

Here’s more of a charming social comedy set in 1960s Collier County

Miss Dreamsville and the Lost Heiress of Collier County, by Amy Hill Hearth. Atria Books. 320 pages. Trade paperback $16.00.

This sequel to “Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society” (2012) should satisfy those who filled the many book club appearances through which the earlier title was effectively marketed. It inches forward a year or so into the mid-1960s and collects most of the same oddball characters whose engaging interactions in the literary society made for enjoyable social comedy.  Lost Heiress

Naples is still portrayed as a sleepy little Southwest Florida town, but this time out its attractions are understood as a lure to investors and a threat to those who like its quiet pace and its special brand of natural beauty.

Narrator Dora Witherspoon, who had left Naples on a search to find her roots in Jackson, Mississippi, finds herself brought home to help counter the effort of her ex-husband, Darryl Norwood. With out-of- state backing (in itself a cultural betrayal), Norwood is planning to build a large development along a tidal river. The name he chooses for it, “Dreamsville,” is another betrayal, as it steals the name invented by a prominent Naples character for her popular radio show. That woman certainly doesn’t want to appear connected with such a project.

The name “Miss Dreamsville” is the invention of Jackie Hart, a brash New England transplant who during her few years in Naples has invigorated the womenfolk, battering down the door of their traditional deference, if not subservience, to men. She breathes the fresh air of the civil rights and women’s rights movements into a remote pocket of Southern resistance. She makes a handful of close friends, but quite a few enemies as well. Jackie is change.

So is Darryl’s Dreamsville.

Amy Hill Hearth

Amy Hill Hearth

From our perch in time, we know that for decades people like  Darryl have won, yet to see the battle brewing in 1964 is quite exciting. Once the ladies begin their campaign to block Dreamsville, they discover that one of them might be the actual property owner of the land that Darryl is planning to develop. Proving the matter depends on the skills and industry of their fledgling lawyer, who seems to be outgunned by the team that Darryl’s backers can afford to hire. The pros and cons of development are one thing; the question of ownership is quite another.

The effort re-energizes the Collier County Women’s Literary Society, which had been rather dormant for a while. What these individualists have in common, ironically, is their sense of community and the need to belong. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 9, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly; and the September 10 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions; and the October 22 Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Miss Dreamsville Returns

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

The human element at the heart of America’s space program

Surrounded by Thunder, by Tom Williams. Inspire on Purpose Publishing. 432 pages. Trade paperback $17.99.

This exciting story, a blend of biography and history, has been out for a while but deserves more attention than it has received. Long time Marco Island resident Tom Williams has crafted an interview-based history of America’s space race activities through the experiences of one key figure. That person’s name is given the book’s subtitle: “The Story of Darrell Loan and the Rocketmen.” The scope, then is from the Soviet Sputnik launch in 1957 to the Aldridge-Armstrong moon landing in July 1969. ThunderCover

Darrell Loan, who worked as the chief electronic guidance designer and troubleshooter, had a unique vantage point on that tension-filled period during which enormous technological gains were made in a relatively short period of time. Mr. Loan and those he worked with seemed to have done the impossible in fulfilling the mission set by President Kennedy.

Tom Williams carefully traces Darrell Loan’s family background and education. Upon graduation from the University of Iowa, he had just the right credentials to be heavily recruited by the new and established industrial companies fighting for government contracts during the space race. Loan first worked on Long Island for Sperry. The work was challenging and important, but Loan’s wife was unhappy in the New York area. She didn’t find the other women she met friendly. And her husband spent much of his time elsewhere, as he was constantly called to the facilities where spacecraft were being tested or high-level meetings were being held.

Loan’s superior performance led to a call from Chrysler, Chrysler the principle manufacturer of the Army’s rockets. Audrey was much happier once the couple moved back to the Midwest and was befriended by the “Chrysler Wives”, but Darrell was still away from home most of the time, meeting with project directors. High- ranking military officers, and civilian bigwigs in the aerospace efforts.

In fact, Loan was regularly under the supervision of the main rocketman, Wernher von Braun, who – assisted by other German scientists hired by the U. S. government – was the primary organizer of and motivator for America’s space efforts.

Tom Williams

Tom Williams

The author’s descriptions of the interactions among members of this elite class of technical and management geniuses (both military and civilian) are unexpected treasures of this book. Readers learn about an amazing cast of characters: some, like the American astronauts, are well-known. Others, like Bill Hinkle, the Chrysler executive who lured Loan away from Sperry, should be.

Essentially, Mr. Williams focuses on the principal stages in the space race. These include getting a manned vehicle into space, then getting one and two-man vehicles into earth orbit on mission-specific flights, then managing the rendezvous and linking of two space vehicles, and finally surveying the moon and landing there. These are the building blocks of President Kennedy’s call to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s – and, of course, ahead of the Soviets. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the October 29, 2014 FortMyers Florida Weekly and the October 30 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Tom Williams

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

“March with Me,” by Rosalie T. Turner

This novel portrays the outer and inner worlds of two young women growing up in Birmingham, Alabama when it became the flashpoint of the Civil Rights Movement. The chapters contain subsections that alternate the consciousnesses of Letitia and Martha Ann, one black, one white, as they process the momentous changes that are going on in their city. Of course, Birmingham is two cities: one black, one white, with minimal interaction until the spring of 1963. March_with_Me_cov

Part One, titled “The Civil Rights Years,” is by far the longest section, spanning the period of the girls’ high school years and their first two years of college. The first couple of years are the most action-packed, as they follow the major historical events. Ms. Turner artfully combines the growing up of her fictional characters with the Birmingham-centered actions of the important movement leaders: Dr. Martin Luther King, Rev. Abernathy, Rev. Shuttlesworth, and the firebrand Rev. Bevel.

Letitia, who participates in the Children’s March, at first only learns how to be angry. Her experience of being assaulted by the harsh streams from fire hoses used for crowd control leads her to back off from active participation while struggling with her growing anger. Typically, she had been protected from the realities of racial injustice by her parents and grandmother. Embraced inside of her black community, until the movement shook up Birmingham she had little awareness about how bad things were.

While her friend Mae is committed to attending the superficially integrated University of Alabama, Letitia sees herself as helping the black community by attending Miles, the local black college and then teaching in the black schools. Her counterpart, Martha Ann, also becomes a teacher.

Rosalie T. Turner

Rosalie T. Turner

Ironically, a year after college graduation this child of a racist father is assigned to a black school. She is the only white teacher there, and she quickly learns what it’s like to be a minority non-person. The black woman who does housekeeping chores for Martha Ann’s mother is Letitia’s mother, but the families have had no meaningful connection – or even recognition.

The author does a fine job of setting Letitia and Martha Ann into richly described families and exploring the dynamics within each family. Letitia’s father is a fine man, but he doesn’t want to make waves. He knows his paycheck depends on keeping a low profile and excepting the status quo. Through his outlook, and in many other ways, Ms. Turner examines the enormous power of sheer inertia. How can small numbers of people counteract that inertia?

To read the entire review, click here: April Read of the Month: “March with Me,” by Rosalie T. Turner

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books

Hearth, home, and the humor of humanity

“Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society,” by Amy Hill Hearth. Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. 278 pages. $15.00 trade paper.

One can feel the immense joy of Amy Hill Hearth’s engagement in her first novel. It radiates through every scene and through every page. Sometimes, an exceptional writer finds an exceptional premise, and the result is a truly exceptional book. Such is the case with “Miss Dreamsville.” Inspired and inspiring, it is already a top pick of many literary groups and is sure to be an immense hit at book clubs, as was Mrs. Hearth’s first book, the best-selling “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years.”

 And it’s set in Naples, Florida circa 1962-63. 

 This was a time of small town claustrophobia for those women who were feeling the winds of cultural change but had been habituated to a narrow conformity. To be divorced, like the narrating character Dora Witherspoon – who works in the post office – is to live in exile. Divorce is disgrace. To be “suspiciously single,” like librarian, Miss Lansbury, isn’t much better. To be a young, highly literate Black woman in the still-segregated South, like Priscilla Harmon, is to be a misplaced person. To be a reluctant, outspoken Yankee transplant, like Jackie Hart, is bound to make you the subject of gossip and scorn. To be a released murder convict, like Mrs. Bailey White, does not win you friends. To be a reclusive, middle-aged poet carrying the moniker “Plain Jane” puts you out of the mainstream.

 And to be an obvious, though closeted gay man, like Robbie-Lee Simpson, who runs the Sears catalogue store, is . . . Well, you know.

 Jackie, a restless and bored mother of three whose husband is always away on business trips, sets the literary society idea in motion and is its guiding force. As this magnificent seven tentatively begins its exploration of books, what the members really explore is one another. Secrets are revealed. Empathy and understanding flourish. Bonds are created.


 There is a great mystery demanding the town’s attention. It is not the Cuban Missile Crisis or the testing of a young Catholic (!!!) president. It is not the burning of a local Negro church by hooded figures. Rather, it is the mystery of Miss Dreamsville’s identity. Who is that woman with the sexy voice on late-night radio?  

 Pretty much left to themselves, the members (we can’t say “the women” because Robbie-Lee has been allowed to join) in the Literary Society make some splendid, sometimes daring, selections for discussion. One is the old favorite, “Little Women.” Another is a title by Priscilla’s favorite, Zora Neale Hurston. The group also reads Carson’s “Silent Spring,” Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and the notorious “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan.

The meetings anchor their lives, and the discussions open up their hearts while enlarging the novel’s scope to the world of ideas about race, gender, and identity on many levels. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears (retitled) in the November 15, 2012 Naples edition of Florida Weekly, along with an interview, click here: Florida Weekly – Hearth 1, Florida Weekly – Hearth 2, Florida Weekly – Hearth 3, and Florida Weekly – Hearth 4. The review (without the  interview) appears in the November 14 Fort Myers edition and the November 15 Bonita Springs edition.

It also appears in Southern Literary Review: “Miss Dreamsville” by Amy Hill Hearth

1 Comment

Filed under Authors and Books

Retrieving the Sweater

This recently revised piece recaptures a slice of my life in the early 1960s. I”m not sure what to call it: personal essay, memoir, fictionalized memoir, or short story. Take your pick.

Cassie and I had been eyeballing each other for several weeks, ever since we stepped into the same New School class (on Albert Camus) along with a handful of other recent Greenwich Village immigrants. We quickly became a group, Cassie the only woman (though we’d have said “girl” then). Except for Jeff, who came from Brooklyn, we had each called home some bastion of comfort in an Eastern Seaboard suburb. Palling around in a group of four or five, we’d pace up and down 8th Street looking for some cheap mischief or a friendly bartender. We’d huddle together in the Bleeker Street cinema or just sit out on the benches in Washington Square, admiring the pigeons.

We’d talk about Anais Nin, who was having one of her several breakthrough moments and whose new editions were prominently displayed at the trendy bookshops. Once, as we walked past the Bobst Library of NYU, we spotted her, caped and coiffed in her delightfully mysterious fashion. Her novels and stories (not at all like the bold unexpurgated diaries to be published decades later) were filled with poeticized longing and gauze-cloaked sensuality.

Being in the same class bonded us unexpectedly. We had already developed other friendships, and Cassie, who had been in the Village for six months, occasionally talked about a boy friend, an older guy, whom we never saw. I think, perhaps, he was married and Cassie was his big adventure on the side, though she seemed to take him seriously. In spite of the ways in which our lives did not otherwise link, we kept feeling this tight tugging, something sashing us into a privileged, knowing circle.

I couldn’t take my eyes off Cassie, yet meeting her gaze was a problem, too. She was very cool, worldly, bold in her look and stride and language. Sleek and tormentingly sexy, she said I dare you with every flounce of her long, straight, light-brown hair. Her look said are you up to it? whenever she caught me staring.

I didn’t know.

We were all busy writing poems. Well, maybe “busy” is too strong in terms of how much writing we got done – let alone rewriting. However, we were certainly busy enough reading and talking about poetry. None one of us had any discipline, just a borrowed sense of style and the dreamy, late adolescent angst that Nin’s work captured perfectly. Certainly we wanted to impress one another, and in particular the guys wanted to impress Cassie. We’d meet to share our work, and at some point Cassie and Jeff and someone outside of the immediate group started a little magazine. When Cassie became the chief editor (because her father’s money floated this little operation and because we couldn’t deny her anything), whatever I wrote seemed like a trial answer to one of her silent I dare you smiles. I loved to watch her push away her hair and rub one of her gold loop earrings as she concentrated on a manuscript. Could she tell, from a poem, if I was up to it? I’d have to find out.

By now we were well into the spring semester, which of course is a misnomer. It was the dead of winter and we were getting one of those ugly, windy city blizzards that was covering over the ubiquitous Kennedy and Nixon bumper stickers.  Though we no longer were taking a class together, the “gang” still hung out. Cassie’s poetry magazine, and her edgy, earthy magnetism, kept us in the same tight orbit. Actually, I had become more comfortable as her friend now. I’d heard a lot about her parents and her interest in Asian art. And, since I hadn’t made a move, I had given up thinking of her invisible “Frank” as a rival. Having fought down the attraction, I could look her in the eye.

It was four or five in the afternoon, the storm hastening darkness, when lights began flickering in the New School cafeteria where we sat looking over line drawings and woodcuts for the magazine. Jeff had a poem about a little boy who sat on a golden stone in a golden circle – something heavily symbolic that sounded good when he read it aloud – and we were choosing some illustrations to go along with it. The intensity of the storm increased, and we decided to split up and go back to our living quarters. Jeff left for the subway to Brooklyn, and something possessed me to become Cassie’s escort to her Hudson Street studio apartment. Had she asked me? Dared me? I can’t remember.

We half-ran, half-walked across the few blocks, crossing Sheridan Square, eyes blinded by the wind-whipped snow that quickly melted and soaked our thin jackets. We splashed through gutters and the heavy slush climbed up our jeans right to the knees. Cassie leaned against me and grasped my hand as we endured the last block, turned onto Hudson, and found the shelter of the tiny lobby. I stamped and shook off the worst of it while she checked her mailbox. Just then, as she pulled out her key ring, I wished I had sent her my best poem. But I hadn’t been able to bring myself to send any. As I warmed a bit, the absent weight of her hip against mine and the echo of her fingers in my hand suddenly registered. Was I up to it? Then we climbed the three floors to her apartment.

Ohmygod how splendidly unselfconscious Cassie appeared as she stripped out of her wet clothing down to her bra and panties. Her look told me I was really stupid not to be doing the same thing. Did I want to catch my death? She hung my wet jacket on a nail and threw my sweater, which was mostly dry, onto the corner of her platform bed. I was spellbound, trying to be all businesslike and nonchalant as I kicked off my loafers and pulled off those soggy denims. I shot a glance at the three-quarter view of Cassie’s back as she raised her arms to dry her hair in a thick towel. Her breasts, now unfettered, perfectly framed in a hallway mirror, followed her movements. My shirt came off.

Cassie put on a recording of someone reading translations of Garcia Lorca’s poetry and then we were under the down comforter, warming each other, finding out where everything was, and yet there was no love-talk, only talk about the usual stuff. I wondered why I had left my wet socks on, but then tried hard to focus on the possibility of meeting Cassie’s dare. After a while, we were getting lost in our caresses and excitations. Cassie was making movie-moans and I was wondering if she was expecting me to have prophylactics. It was about that time. Then, as a key began to turn the tumblers in the lock, my heart knew disappointment and also, strangely, relief.

Cassie sprang up, then composed herself and slipped into my sweater as her roommate pulled open the door and dripped into the apartment. By the time she was in far enough to see us, I was half into my still-damp jeans and Cassie, legs tucked under her, sat with the bottom of my sweater pulled down under her knees. “Sorry,” Maggie exclaimed sarcastically, then turned to put some things away in the Pullman kitchen.

Now I had to put on my best nonchalant act. Was I up to it? A blur of small talk about Nin’s new Seduction of the Minotaur, which Maggie had just read. Leave soon, but not too soon. At the time, it seemed best to leave the sweater behind.

Something changed after that. Something became my fault that hadn’t quite been anyone’s fault. My expectation that a romance was brewing was quickly exposed as utter nonsense. I could not find the words or gestures to resume that intimacy, if that’s what it was, on any level. The gang went through wooden motions of having fun and being committed artists, but all that earnestness about comradeship and transcendence got to be painful, like a stiff neck. Cassie, the lodestone and center, frowned a lot, looked uncharacteristically perplexed, and after a while drifted onto the periphery of our lives.

For all my disappointment and sorrow, for all my worry over just how much embarrassment was proper, my principal focus was on that darn sweater. I wasn’t sure if it was a legitimate forfeit – a part of me forever gone with my self-esteem and silly romantic notions – or just a sweater that I liked and needed and should get back.  Sometimes, I imagined that Cassie was intending to call me and arrange to return it. She would give me back my self, and perhaps even more. Other times, I felt that she was holding onto it as a kind of inverse and perverse trophy. Then again, it was just as likely she simply didn’t care. Or maybe it was another dare. Come and get it. Was I up to it?

Did I even want that garment that had spent more time wrapped around her precious body than I had? Did I want it with her smell . . . the inevitable strands of her hair? Did I want this talisman of an unfulfilled desire? Did I want to turn back the clock, reclaim the moment? What had she taken from me, really?

What happens next?

I cannot tell you truthfully what happened next, because if I did I’d be telling a different kind of story.  But I can tell you this: it’s over fifty years later and I have an eleven year old granddaughter, and I’ve published a shelf of criticism on Anais Nin and quite a few poems. But it is as if the outcome is still in doubt. Even today, every poem I write, even this morning’s poem, is awaiting sanction in Cassie’s magazine. And will you believe me if I tell you that on a day like today I feel as if I’m still in the process of either retrieving the sweater – or not?

Leave a comment

Filed under Musings

BOOK BEAT 41 – Three Best Bets

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   April 25-May 1, 2007

by Philip K. Jason

What does a book columnist do for pleasure? Why, read books of course. Over the last several months I’ve had the good fortune to enjoy several top-notch books on a variety of subjects. Below, in no particular order, are three “Best Bets” for your enjoyment and illumination.

Daniel Mendelsohn’s The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million (Harper Collins) is a widely acclaimed narrative about the author’s quest to discover the fate of six relatives from the small Ukranian town where his maternal grandfather’s family had flourished for generations. There had been mostly silence in the author’s youth about his uncle, Shmiel Jaeger (the grandfather’s brother), whom he was said to resemble. And there was a great mystery about exactly how Shmeil, his wife, and four daughters died. Daniel Mendelsohn became committed to finding the answers and telling the story. His journey takes him not only to the town (called Bolechow by its Polish-Jewish residents) and its neighboring communities, but also to Israel, Sweden, and Australia. In these far-flung places, Bolechow exiles, survivors of the Holocaust, hold the bits and pieces of information that Mendelsohn seeks.

The narrative is effective in combining factual and emotional detective work. Mendelsohn’s style is majestic, especially when meditating on the meaning of discovered fragments of fact and when describing the places that he visits. What he has to describe is not very pleasant: the unspeakable horrors that the Jews of this small town had to face, the complicity of neighbors who were thought to be friends, the tortured memories of those from whom the sought information is – sooner or later – revealed. Another aspect of Mendelsohn’s style, self-consciously developed, involves a shuttling back and forth in time and often moving by association rather than chronology. In this way, he reproduces how the searching mind operates in the process of discovery.

A unique aspect of this book is Mendelsohn’s interlaced series of meditations on the famous stories in the book of Genesis. Sometimes interesting in themselves, these sections do not illuminate the moral dimensions of the Holocaust material, as Mendelsohn no doubt intends. But on the whole, this is a powerful achievement, its focus and particularity still allowing it to serve as a microcosm of the larger Holocaust catastrophe. The urgency of Mendelsohn’s quest cannot be missed. There are fewer and fewer people left to answer the questions of life and death during the Holocaust and to breathe life back into vanished communities.


When I saw the title of Robert Stone’s new book, Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties (Ecco), I knew I had to read it. Why? First of all, Stone is one of my favorite writers. Of his seven novels, four rank high on my contemporary American fiction list. These are Dog Soldiers, A Flag for Sunrise, Outerbridge Reach, and Damascus Gate. The other reason is that I’ve become a sixties junky awaiting the energy flow that will bring forth my own memoir of that exciting decade. Maybe reading Stone’s book will help.

Indeed, the maps of our lives during those years had some places in common, Greenwich Village and environs being the most important. Also, we were both aspiring writers, though Stone – about five years my senior – had turned the aspiration to solid reality by the decade’s end.

Like Mendelsohn’s, Stone’s descriptions of places are superb. Not only are locales rendered with sensory power, but perhaps more importantly, Stone captures the nuances of the kaleidoscopic cultural environment. We visit New Orleans, Mexico, California, New York, Vietnam, and London – following Stone in his pursuit of his craft and his themes. Too often, unfortunately, we must tolerate the drug culture that he recalls with dangerous authenticity. This is the downside of the creative stew simmering through those years, somehow making the creative volcano possible.

We follow Stone’s relationships with individuals like Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady, already cultural icons when Stone entered their orbit. We see Stone take on Grub Street jobs to make a subsistence living as a writer while pushing his first novel, Hall of Mirrors, along. We encounter him as a young husband and parent, balancing the needs and responsibilities of art and life. We re-enter the maelstrom of attitudes that swirled around the Vietnam War.

In the end, the book leaves a taste of betrayal and disillusionment. Stone writes, “Life had given Americans so much by the mid-sixties that we were all a little drunk on possibility. Things were speeding out of control before we could define them. Those of us who cared most deeply about the changes, those who gave their lives to them, were, I think, the most deceived.” The rest of this paragraph (on p. 161 of the book) stands as a marvelous encapsulation and assessment of the times.


Bill Belleville’s Losing It All to Sprawl: How Progress Ate My Cracker Landscape (University Press of Florida) is also a book most notable for its author’s descriptive power. This searingly beautiful work, at once plea and elegy, confronts what we have sacrificed for residential-commercial development and short-term convenience. It is at once a teaching text in which we learn about the ecosystem that we have so thoughtlessly and rapaciously undermined and a personal story of one individual’s confrontation with loss.

Belleville is unabashedly emotional, as well as logical, in his response to the sprawl that threatens to turn Florida into a desert. His sojourns in the remaining protected areas in and around Seminole County are pilgrimages to holy places. They are also journeys back in time to a unique and glorious landscape and a spontaneous unfolding process of renewal and adaptation. Belleville literally worships unspoiled nature, and he shares his reading of what it reveals much like a priest exploring scripture.

Bill Belleville teaches us to appreciate the integrity with which Cracker architecture raised domiciles whose design did not attack the hot and swampy environment, but rather took advantage of it by working with it. He patiently explains the price of progress, how the paving over of our state not only creates unmanageable runoff of poisons but also undermines the delicate balance of rain, natural water storage, and natural water flow that allows this peninsula to exist. Dry wells, sinkholes, and impoverished flora and fauna are consequences of greed and irresponsibility. And much worse is to come.

In the final stages of the book, Belleville describes the damage wrought by hurricanes to the Sanford area he has come to love. But such natural forces are nowhere near as destructive, both spiritually and materially, as the proliferation of asphalt and the countless temples to vapid consumerism that violate a once-glorious wilderness.

Losing It All to Sprawl is a mighty and moving achievement, a telling antidote to the pro-growth boosterism that shapes the decisions of all too many private and public leaders.

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Book Beat, Florida Authors