A hot, sweltering Florida summer is the setting for Heart of Palm, a debut novel by Laura Lee Smith. The story centers on three months in the lives of the Bravo family of Utina, a sleepy little town near St. Augustine, where Palm Sunday palms and moonshine once offered a prosperous economic existence. But that was years before. Times have changed for the town and for the Bravos, whose long-held properties on the Intracoastal Waterway are of great interest to enthusiastic land developers. What will it take for the Bravos to sell?
The prospect dredges up repressed emotions and looms over the family that consists of the matriarch, Arla, once a "perfect," striking red head and her adult children - Carson, a philandering investment manager with secrets; Frank, the dutiful son and proprietor of "Uncle Henry's," the family's restaurant on the waterfront; and Sofia, an emotionally wounded woman with hair as red as her mother's used to be and a fiery temper to match. But it is Dean, the patriarch, whose absence casts a long shadow over the family's past, as old wounds, secrets, heartbreaks and missed opportunities have woven themselves into the fabric of the present - and maybe even the future, too.
Well-developed characters confronted by an undercurrent of change propel this unhurried family saga. Smith is a careful, detailed writer who assembles big, bold, well-drawn scenes - moments from the everyday lives of the Bravos that resonate with deeper insights into how personal regrets and longings shape the fates of all involved.
Heart of Palm by Laura Lee Smith
Grove Press, $25.00, Hardcover, 9780802121028, 496 pp
Publication Date: April 2, 2013