A man contemplates his marriage, family, and life in this contemporary romance with philosophical themes.
Philosophy Ph.D. candidate Brendan Ryan fulfills his dream of a Thoreau-like existence in Maine when he escapes Boston and his unhappy wife for a cabin in Caribou, where he embarks on “his personal search for truth, his search for the meaning of existence.” He plans to spend the summer reading and rekindling a relationship with his son, Corey. The two are having a good time, but a conflict arises when Brendan is reunited with a French-accented beauty, Cosette Fontaine, at the local diner. They met when he passed through Maine while purchasing the cabin. Named after the tragic character in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables as a tribute to her Acadian heritage, the alluring waitress stands out in the small town. Brendan is immediately attracted to her open nature, so unlike his pinched and constantly complaining wife. He and Cosette engage in a light affair in spite of his marriage that quickly accelerates into love. Brendan is soon musing that “maybe my search for truth is over, my dear sweet angel—I may have found it right here with you.” But the unanswered questions involving his wife and marriage and whether he will return to Boston in the fall remain. At its heart, Carroll’s (Slum Fever, 2015, etc.) ambitious novel is more about Acadian history in Maine than a summer romance or philosophical journey. He delivers plenty of rich, vivid period details, including about the Ku Klux Klan’s role in the 1920s (“Prejudice against French-speaking Americans, especially Acadian French-speaking, began when the Klan came in”). But the story is populated by stock characters: the downtrodden husband, the fat harridan of a wife, the enchanting waitress, and the folksy, proverb-spouting handyman. Readers will struggle to identify with serial adulterer Brendan, who recalls his affairs with two sexy undergraduates. And Cosette seems bipolar, one minute playing coy, the next cursing about a rude waitress (“It’s really time for her to fucking croak!”).
An uneven love story with intriguing historical details.
Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2018
Page count: 281pp
Publisher: Vanity Press Books
Review Posted Online: May 25, 2018
In the conclusion to Carroll’s (Slum Song, 2013, etc.) trilogy, an American philanthropist and his loved ones flee a Caribbean island of revolutionaries—but then he risks a return to save his fiancee’s brother.
Robbie Beaufort built a life on San Cristobal with his Christobalian wife-to-be, Julianna Miranda. But his charity work has made him an enemy of a local revolutionary group called the Sandinas and its leader, Generalissimo Cano. Robbie escapes by plane with Julianna; her young daughter, Alba; the couple’s newborn, Victor; and other family members and friends. Their new life in the United States begins with a media frenzy, as Americans’ current favorite topic is the revolutionary takeover of San Cristobal. Fresh obstacles await stateside, as Robbie is sure that Donna Cruz, who runs his charity organization, Kids of the World in New York City, has a drinking problem. Also, he and Julianna lose touch with her brother, Sgt. Gabino Manzanares, who’d stayed behind but now regrets his decision. When Robbie gets an opportunity to return to the island, he takes it, braving certain peril in the hope that he can find Gabino and reunite him with his family in America. Carroll energizes his tale by giving Robbie and his fellow absconders myriad paths to follow. Robbie, for instance, considers replenishing his waning funds by writing a book on his experiences and distributing it through his wealthy brother’s newly founded publishing company. Meanwhile, family friend Natalia refuses to learn English, which is bound to cause her some difficulties. The story here is decidedly less intense than the preceding book’s; the characters’ complaints about American weather, for instance, pale in comparison to the constant threat of Sandina violence. The final act, however, is devoted to rescuing Gabino, and it ends the novel, as well as the series, with an exciting, fraught undertaking.
A less-harrowing but still enthralling story that shows that keeping family together can be a never-ending adventure.
Pub Date: May 27, 2016
Page count: 348pp
Publisher: Vanity Press
Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2018
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018
A New York philanthropist and Caribbean ex-stripper with a dying daughter discover new love and purpose together in this debut novel, the first installment of a trilogy.
While his sassy girlfriend (and work colleague) Donna Cruz derides him for being pompous, there is no denying that Robert Beaufort, 50, has suffered grievous loss, with his wife and twin daughters tragically killed in a train accident. The newspaper printing executive has since turned his life to philanthropy, forming the Kids of the World charity. He travels to San Cristobal, a small Caribbean island, hoping to get its president’s guarantee that a Kids of the World donation will be used to help those in need in its oppressed slum region. During his stay on the island, Robert witnesses the horrific injury of a man resulting from the slum’s ridiculous and hazardous infrastructure conditions (there is an uncompleted pedestrian bridge). Robert also gets hurt and ends up entering the slum for treatment, where he meets Julianna Miranda, 27, who has just left her job as a stripper to run her own store in the slum. She’s also the unhappy wife of Pedro Miranda, the man Robert saw injured, and the mother of Alba, dealing with a deadly heart condition. Robert is increasingly drawn to Julianna and determined to help Alba. Through various machinations, he secures funding for Alba’s care. By the novel’s end, Robert and Julianna admit and express their love, but various factors, including island politics and Pedro’s further incapacitation, pose new challenges for this unlikely pair. Carroll, who has newspaper and Caribbean humanitarian experience, has crafted a tale that has somewhat annoying male-fantasy elements (ah, the middle-aged man gets the former stripper!), but ultimately elicits sympathy and rooting for his lead characters as well as colorful secondary cohorts. The author also defies expectations in several key places in this narrative (Donna and Julianna, for example, never engage in battling-for-Robert catfights), making this novel an admirably nuanced read. Carroll also ends this work by offering a teaser of upcoming twists, including island-wide upheaval and a new pregnancy, thus whetting interest in the main couple’s further adventures.
A surprisingly engaging soap-opera romance with a slum setting.
Pub Date: March 14, 2016
Page count: 298pp
Publisher: Vanity Press
Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2016
In this sequel, wedded bliss for an engaged couple on San Cristobal may be wrecked by a revolutionary group with aspirations of taking over the island.
Former New York executive-turned-philanthropist Robbie Beaufort has a new life in the Caribbean with his fiancee, Julianna Miranda. But lately the couple have been distant with each another. Julianna’s legally married to Pedro, comatose, and on a gastrostomy tube from an injury rendered during a hurricane. Robbie doesn’t want a wedding with Pedro still in the picture but he has qualms about taking him off the feeding tube, unsure whether the man would suffer. This postpones both the marriage and the big house Robbie promised, sparking rancor from Julianna and her young daughter, Alba, who hates admitting to her private academy friends that she lives in the slum. Things take a turn for the better when Julianna believes she’s pregnant with the couple’s first child. But trouble is also close by, evidenced by recurring black flags. Robbie doesn’t initially put much credence in rumors that the flags belong to the Sandinas, South American revolutionaries. Unfortunately, the group sees Robbie as a threat, with his charity work appeasing slum residents and reducing the number of recruits in a potential revolt. Carroll (Slum, 2016, etc.) aptly establishes the slum: it’s imperfect but populated by good people, while the Black Hell is the undeveloped and precarious section to avoid. Much of the plot (perhaps too much) focuses on Robbie obsessed with Pedro’s predicament, even flying in an expert to verify the patient won’t feel anything if doctors pull the feeding tube. The Sandinas, however, are a slowly building menace: short, intermittent perspectives from the group preface a more aggressive strike that leaves death and destruction in its wake. There are few signs of tangible romance between often bickering Robbie and Julianna. But it’s a struggle both realistic and endearing, as they’re fighting to keep everyone in their family together and safe.
A laudable depiction of life within civil unrest and a proficient setup for the trilogy’s conclusion.
Pub Date: April 6, 2013
Page count: 342pp
Publisher: Vanity Press
Review Posted Online: May 31, 2017
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