Heart of Palm
By Laura Lee Smith
Grove Press, 2013
The Bravo family lives in Utina, FL, an economically depressed community in the north part of the state, near St. Augustine. Utina is the kind of town people want to move from, not to, but in the early naughts, developers and investors are coming to Utina to buy up land along the Intercoastal Waterway. The Bravos face new challenges in this changing landscape. The matriarch, Arla, married into the family and lost touch with her moneyed St. Augustine background when she did. With her husband Dean she had four kids – Frank, Carson, Will and Sofia. Sofia still lives with her mother, at the age of 44. Frank runs a fish fry down the road from the family home, Aberdeen. And Carson lives in St. Augustine. This novel tells the story of both a family and a place. Most of the action occurs over the course of one summer, with flashbacks used to fill in the family’s history.
I was completely engrossed by this book. Smith tells a moving story that twists and turns in unexpected ways. She writes with poetic language and uses an omniscient third person narrator to rotate the story’s focus between the Bravo siblings and their mother, creating a compelling collection of characters. Although I have limited experience with North Florida, I was there with the Bravos as they faced their challenges, limitations and opportunities with varying levels of insight and success. If you are interested in literary novels, with a good story, this book is for you. The final pages really churn up the drama, almost too much for me, but the beauty of the story and characters made me keep turning to the final page.