In Ratner’s debut novel, set in a small town in Florida, Capt. Henry Selmer has a simple life and aims to keep it that way.
The Navy veteran spends his days operating a drawbridge in Rock Key, Fla., working on his novel about a traveling salesman and visiting the Star Grill, a struggling diner where he’s one of the many regulars. Henry’s primary aspiration is to one day inherit the role of lighthouse keeper, a post occupied by his only friend and fellow curmudgeon, Carmine, where he can keep a watchful eye on the unstoppable flow of progress. But when Eddie Eye, a young, irreverent “mullet” (named for the legendarily dumb fish, not the legendarily dumb haircut) begins working at the drawbridge, the simple, steady life of Capt. Henry is suddenly upended. The novel quickly embraces the familiar trope of carefree youth confronting stubborn tradition. It’s a formula that’s been proven to work, and this novel is no exception; it’s finely detailed and populated with salty characters and their charming, intertwined stories, including those of Orrin, who owns the Star but pretends to be a lowly cook, and a man everyone calls the senator, who is always politicking over coffee. Ratner treats his characters—including the town itself—with care and consideration, allowing each the space, often by switching perspectives, needed to develop. But, like life in a small town, the momentum can often seem sluggish. The chapters feel less like a progression of plot or conflict than episodes of daily life in which the characters opine and share long-winded wisdom. This forestalling of action creates a feel similar to a bedtime story—simple, unwavering characters inhabiting a small world, with stories that accumulate rather than progress—rather than a novel with a traditional arc, but those who appreciate a leisurely pace will enjoy it.
Slow, charming and delightful, this coastal novel makes for a great summer read.