PAINTING SUNSETS by Stephen Evans

PAINTING SUNSETS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

While on a visit to Florida, a girl embarks on a mysterious undersea journey.

This debut novella by Evans begins on the long, straight bridge stretching from the mainland to the Florida Keys. The trip is being taken by a girl named Melissa and her odd, well-meaning father, a poet and poetry professor still emotionally unbalanced from the death of his wife. He’s bringing his daughter to Key West as a kind of getaway; he recites snatches of poetry to her on the way, and once they arrive, they meet a woman painting sunsets on the pier who tells Lissa “there is a great magic in painting sunsets.” But the real magic engulfs Lissa when she falls headlong into the water and suddenly finds herself in a surreal underwater world where she can breathe just fine and where she meets a succession of indigenous sea creatures who speak English—a turtle, a manatee, a dolphin, etc.—and who invite her deeper and deeper into their realm. As she progresses through this odyssey, she periodically fortifies herself with her father's old habit of reciting poetry, rolling out the verses of Shelley and Wordsworth under the water and hearing in turn the poetical musings of the sea creatures themselves (this provides one of the many Lewis Carroll–esque moments in the story, when readers are told: “But she did not feel like arguing grammar with a poetic turtle. The day was quite strange enough”). Evans writes all of this with an engaging sense of whimsical momentum, as Lissa quickly learns more and more about the strange aquatic world where she finds herself—and as she gains greater acceptance from the creatures who live there. Dramatically speaking, the story suffers a bit from the tight focus on Lissa; as clever and enjoyable as the Alice in Wonderland–style fantasy is, after a while readers are probably going to wonder about poor Lissa’s father back up on that Key West dock— and the book’s conclusion certainly doesn’t help with this. But the fantasy elements are vividly well-done.

A heroine introduced to Key West finds even more magic than she could have expected in this engaging modern-day fairy tale.

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher
Program: Kirkus Indie
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