Tag Archives: community

Debut novel illuminates the boundaries of community, connectedness, and identity

The Other Side of Everything: A Novel, by Lauren Doyle Owens. Touchstone. 272 pages. Hardcover $25.00.

Lauren Doyle Owens, who lives in the Fort Lauderdale area and has set her first novel there, is someone to watch. She has written a stunning literary murder mystery that is at once a nailbiter and a brilliantly nuanced evocation of how communities work and don’t work. How proximity to others does not create a neighborhood, how aging in place can foster a misery of isolation as contemporaries pass away and new neighbors remain strangers. 

Ms. Owens builds her novel around three major characters whose situations and perspective rotate through the novel. Bernard White, about to turn eighty, has lived in the suburban community called Seven Springs for decades and witnessed its socio-economic changes. Since his wife’s death, he has become increasingly withdrawn. When he sees smoke rising from his neighbor’s house, he calls 911 and awaits the firemen, police, and paramedics. The fire seems to have covered a murder. But why Adel? Who really knows her, anyway?

Bernard feels helpless in the situation, somehow responsible for what happened. The tragedy wakes up the neighborhood, leading Bernard to begin a tentative re-engagement.

Lauren Doyle Owens / photo by Summer Weinstein

Amy Unger, a cancer survivor, spots the fire on her way home. Once a promising artist, she thought briefly of photographing or sketching the scene. But she is not yet ready. She is still cowed by her husband’s disdain for her avocation. The marriage has gone cold, and Pete’s business trips are far too frequent and extended.

Maddie Lowe, fifteen and suffering from her mother having abandoned the family, works in a restaurant near school and home. She attempts to take care of her brother, and she attempts friendship with a homeless man, Charlie, who comes into the restaurant regularly. Her need for respectful attention is met in part by a neighborhood college student whose advances flatter her. However, her sexual awakening has a raw edge to it. She is a child being pushed into adulthood way to fast and yet meeting her challenges with a surprising degree of effectiveness.

Murders of elderly women in the neighborhood continue. These are not random. The killer has an agenda. What’s his motive? Is he an outsider, or someone in their midst? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 17, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 18 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Owens.

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors