A mishmash of oddball and rollicking individuals inhabits a Florida fishing village in this debut short story collection.
Bay Key is an isolated island village on the Gulf Coast. It’s a place for all sorts of people, like Floyd Butler, a drunk who frequents the local M&M Bar. In “The Lottery Ticket,” Floyd is sure he can woo hotel chef Janine if he can just win the Florida lottery. Like many of the book’s characters, Floyd crops up in a number of tales. Even the charming eponymous hero of “Bernard’s Great Adventure,” the Bay Hotel’s director of guest relations (and a basset hound), recurs, as do his hotel-owning caretakers, Todd and Terri Swift. Characters are often shiftless and dabble in alcohol and recreational drugs, including Buddy Palmer and his family in “The Meglodon Curse.” But neither they nor the stories are one-dimensional. In “Jim Anderson’s Ashes,” for example, Jim’s suicide leads to the discovery of his diaries, which enlighten EMT Zeke with details on a fellow Vietnam veteran’s life. This is trailed by “Hemingway’s Best Friend,” in which a storm dredges up nostalgia for Todd—an old videotaped interview from his days as a Miami TV reporter. Curious characters, despite sometimes craving the isolation Bay Key allows, are drawn to one another; loner Ben of “The Blue-Footed Boobies” befriends vacationing elderly couple William and Grace Elliott-Smith thanks to a shared affinity for birds. The collection’s highlight, “Rattlesnake Billy,” epitomizes the tales’ skillful blend of zaniness and sincerity. In it, Billy Joe Kitchens somehow sustains a snake bite from reptilian roadkill. The locals’ swift response is both hilarious (clearing a spot for a helicopter entails arming neighbor Daryl, who once inadvertently shot himself, with a chainsaw) and endearing in everyone’s determination to help. Sanders’ breezy prose makes the book a quick read. In “Up on the Roof,” Terri bemoans the couple’s lack of privacy as hotel owners, with their sex life “more of a memory than a reality.”
Ten cohesive tales that earn laughs with sincere characters.