Daniel’s (Stiltsville, 2011) novel, about a woman coping with her broken family and her husband’s and son’s illnesses, contains an undercurrent that surges in parts but can’t quite manage to maintain its grip on the reader.
Georgia Quillian and her husband, Graham, move to Georgia’s hometown in Florida following the disintegration of their professional dreams in Illinois. Georgia’s college-advising business has gone belly up, and an incident attributed to Graham’s sleeping disorder, parasomnia, prevents him from obtaining tenure at Northwestern University. Starting anew, the couple buys an old houseboat and docks it at Georgia’s father and stepmother’s house, while Graham begins his new job working on a project that studies extreme weather. He spends large amounts of time away from his family, and when he’s home, Graham is remote and unable to engage with Georgia or their young son, Frankie. Frankie is physically capable of speech but rarely makes a sound; he’s diagnosed with selective mutism. When stepmother Lidia tells Georgia about an opening as a personal assistant to a local “hermit,” she accepts the position. Artist Charlie Hicks, who’s many years older than Georgia, has lived for years in a home built on pilings on the water in an area known as Stiltsville, and she goes to his place a few days a week. While Georgia organizes his art, which includes sketches of many sea creatures, she finds peace and tranquility in Charlie’s presence and witnesses positive changes in Frankie as he and Charlie develop a close bond. Georgia recognizes how fractured her marriage is and sadly realizes that she and Frankie are happier when Graham is away on his extended trips. Reading Georgia’s reflections about her life and her marriage sometimes feels like slogging through chest-high water to reach a faraway shore, but even though the movement is slow and the journey takes effort, getting to the other side is worth it—at least for parts of the story. The latter portion of the book sweeps readers into the mayhem of Hurricane Andrew and a heart-pounding crisis that triggers waves of powerful emotions but, unfortunately, doesn’t sustain them. Once Andrew passes, the narrative slowly dribbles to a wishy-washy conclusion.
Ebbs and flows.