Harris (A Bottle of Rain, 2007, etc.) delivers a literary novel about a number of ramshackle characters based in modern-day Florida
Stephanie, who recently shot her husband, is on a Greyhound bus to Florida. She strikes up a conversation with a man named Jeremiah, and it’s not long before she’s on her way to his trailer-park home in Daytona Beach. There, she meets Jeremiah’s friend, a physically misshapen, frequently excited man known as Charley Younger, and thinks the following to herself: “That boy had no chin and his ears were weird and his eyes were barely open. Retarded!” After she settles into a new life with her newfound companions, the cast of characters expands to include all sorts of sun-tanned, bottomed-out, chain-smoking, drinking, fishing, and often lonely people. All of them, for some reason or another, find themselves in an area where Ponce de Léon once searched for the fabled Fountain of Youth. Readers follow along as Stephanie, and those in similar straits, do their best to go about their lives no matter how tragic, flawed, or broken they are. For example, readers are told of one young woman, just down from New York City and staying in her boss’s time-share: “This would be a long dark decline that, regardless, would not end well. She just knew it.” The question becomes just what will happen to these people, stuck in this smoldering ashtray of America. In this bleak, entertaining novel, surprises are frequent; just when readers think that they know exactly what’s going to happen next, it turns out that they don’t. Changes come, not only in geography, but also in the characters’ redemptive qualities. Some of the individuals’ broad statements, however, are questionable, even cringe-worthy (such as an assertion that “Guilt drove everything. Drove you everywhere like an evil chauffeur”). However, the book’s descriptions, no matter how crude, prove more memorable; for instance, one woman is said to be an “erotic armadillo,” while another’s nipples poke through her tank top “like thorns.” If the whole setup appears crass, that’s because it is; the focus isn’t on yacht clubs and beachfront condominiums, but on more meager figures who, in spite of it all, manage to survive—or not.
A tale for readers intrigued by the intersecting lives of hard-luck cases.