- Paperback: 452 pages
- Publisher: Grove Press / Atlantic Monthly Press (1 May 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0802121039
- ISBN-13: 978-0802121035
- Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 3.6 x 20.3 cm
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1 customer review)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,665,004 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Heart of Palm Paperback – 1 May 2014
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Praise for "Heart of Palm" An incandescent first novel set in the small town of Utina, Florida, whose inhabitants struggle to balance tradition and progress. Abbe Wright, "O Magazine" Intelligence, heart, wit . . . Laura Lee Smith has all the tools and "Heart of Palm" is a very impressive first novel. Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Empire Falls" [A] fine, funny first novel . . . about lossbreathtaking, harrowing loss and how it can be withstoodand the power of family to shoulder the burden and find forgiveness. . . . Smith . . . excels at bringing this north Florida hamlet to life. Her dialogue is pitch-perfect, her landscapes fragrant with jasmine and yellow pine, and she eloquently evokes the mixture of tenderness and callousness essential to small-town relationships. . . . In the endwhich comes with a delightful twistthe guilty pleasure of "Heart of Palm" is its steadfast tangle of rage and grief and love, a heaping dose of Southern soul with a whole lot of chutzpah thrown in. Gina Webb, "Atlanta Journal Constitution" I could feel the heat, the glare off the Intracoastal. Like a sandspur, "Heart of Palm" sticks with you, drawing blood. Rita Mae Brown, author of "Southern Discomfort " and "Rubyfruit Jungle" "Heart of Palm" is a complex novel, finely developed with multifaceted characters. Dysfunction abounds, though family members are linked by threads of love. The descriptive scenery of the Florida location and the abject poverty the Bravo family faces is compelling. Spiraling subplots with highly emotional scenes reveal unexpected twist and turns, making this novel one that will stay with the reader long after turning the last page. Nancy Carty Lepri, "New York Journal of Books" Remarkable . . . Whether to sell is just one of the problems confronting the Bravo family, whose story is the bruised, brave heart of Smith s book. . . . "Heart of Palm" is Smith s first novel, and it s a knockout. With its knowing but sweet-natured humor, its flawed and believable characters, its convincing depiction of small-town life, its delicious little plot twists and its insight about the human heart, it reminded me often of the novels of Richard Russo, especially "Nobody s Fool" and "Empire Falls." Smith . . . creates a vivid sense of place . . . and she deftly peels back the layers of family relationships. She s a welcome addition to the ranks of Florida writers, and "Heart of Palm" is a fine, bittersweet taste of the Sunshine State. Colette Bancroft, "Tampa Bay Times" Laura Lee Smith masterfully creates a deep, compassionate, and often heartbreakingly funny portrait of a wild, complex Southern family on the brink of massive change while simultaneously rendering the ever-shifting identity of the New South, caught between pristine decay and the terrifying promises of development. Smith is a brilliant writer, and "Heart of Palm" brims with lush vitality, loss, and desire. Julianna Baggott, author of "Pure" and "The Prince of Fenway Park" A spirited Southern family saga . . . Realizations, rededications and reconciliations test and strengthen the bonds of this all-American family. Fans of Fannie Flagg will enjoy this novel. Tara Quinn, "Cleveland Plain Dealer" I ve just read Laura Lee Smith s hefty, eager, and incandescent debut novel, "Heart of Palm," and I can t get the astonishing and benighted Bravos out of my head. And I don t want to. What an extravagantly and engagingly flawed family this is! Smith is an enchanter casting her spell with lyrical prose, evocative details, and spellbinding characters. She explores familial chaos, reckless behavior, and hopeless love with grace, intelligence, and tenderness. She gives me what I long for in fiction: compassion and provocation. What talent, what nerve, what a wondrous and spellbinding story. Trust me, these Bravos will haunt your dreams. John Dufresne, author of "Requiem, Mass." and "Louisiana Power and Light" In "Heart of Palm," first-time novelist Laura Lee Smith introduces readers to the Bravo clan of Florida: matriarch Arla; sons Frank and Carson; and borderline-OCD daughter Sofia. Once a real-estate developer makes an offer on the family property, tensions bubble to the surface, something Smith . . . handles with wit and pathos. . . . A big, engrossing and very Southern look at a family in turmoil, "Heart of Palm" is made to be read on a veranda during the steamy summer months. Randy Cordova, "Arizona Republic" If you re among those with a soft spot for everything Old Florida, pick up Laura Lee Smith s debut novel, "Heart of Palm." This woeful tale of how the Bravo family s hometown is consumed by development will leave you crying, laughing, and longing for a bygone era. "Florida Travel + Life" From the lyrical opening that sets up this story, Smith s voice moves to an earthy voice grounded in the tradition of our great yarn-spinners, giving us a Florida Cracker family saga rich in humor and vivid characters who are all-too-realistically violent, crazy, hilarious, big-hearted, and tragic. This is a heartily ambitious novel that s also a real page-turner, a real story with real people in a place rendered in such palpable detail you feel you know it as well as the people who live there. Brad Watson, author of "The Heaven of Mercury" and "Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives" Independence Day is a turning point for the Bravo family of small-town Utina on Florida s Intracoastal Waterway. . . . The Bravos, once notorious Utina badasses, find their adult ties of guilt and regret beginning to frazzle as long-dormant resentments emerge. Smith s debut novel exudes authenticity. . . . She turns a phrase with wit. . . . Writ[ten] with agility and empathy. "Publishers Weekly" 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 scenesmoments from the everyday lives of the Bravos that resonate with deeper insights into how personal regrets and longings shape the fates of all involved. Kathleen Gerard, Shelf Awareness (online) Smith skillfully sets multiple stories in motion, most, it seems, designed to showcase the vanity of human wishes. Smith is a kind and understanding creator, and even the most venal of her characters, we see, is just trying to get byand usually not succeeding. . . . A lot of fun. "Kirkus Reviews" "Heart of Palm" is pure North Florida. . . . Derelict dads, battling brothers and flawed, beautiful women inhabit this lovely story with its dysfunctional family, just one generation removed from the Snopes, Ewells and Lesters of Southern literary lore. . . . [Smith] is a capable writer and has delivered an enjoyable story. Tim O Connell, "The Florida Times-Union "" --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Laura Lee Smith s short fiction was selected by guest editor Amy Hempel for inclusion in "New Stories from the South" in 2010. Her work has also appeared in "The Florida Review," "Natural Bridge," "Bayou" and other journals. She has taught at Flagler College and currently lives in Florida, where she works as an advertising copywriter."
Top Customer Reviews
After an intense and unusual prologue the gist of the story focuses on three months in the lives of the Bravo family and a spectacular land deal that forces them to make peace with their tumultuous past. There is 60 year old Arla, the family matriarch who stubbornly clings to the things of her past and refuses to leave the crumbling Victorian she has called home since her marriage to Dean Bravo, her statuesque and argumentative daughter Sofia who some call crazy, her two sons, Frank who at 40 has forsaken most of his dreams to run the local diner owned by his mother, and older brother Carson who has abandoned Utina for the greener pastures of St. Augustine. Added to this mix are Carson's wife and daughter, Biaggio Dunkirk resident of a battered trailer that sits on the Bravo property, and an assortment of peripheral characters who reside in Utina Florida, a sleepy small town on the Intracoastal between St. Augustine and Jacksonville.
While Heart of Palm may sound like just another story of a family in turmoil, it is not. Somehow, Ms. Smith has taken a series of different elements, the house, the town, the family, and a set of tragic circumstances and tenderly woven them together to give her readers a well plotted and skillfully crafted story resonating with extraordinary insights. This is a rewarding family saga that is sure to keep you captivated.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The Bravo family lives in the fictional small town of Utina on the Intercoastal just a short drive from St. Augustine. The development all over Florida forgot this sleepy little village until one day it becomes apparent that this gem of a location might be the perfect spot for a new resort.
The mother of the Bravo tribe, Arla, came from the upper crust of St. Augustine society when she married the hapless Dean. A typical story, except that Arla is anything but typical, and her relationship with her husband is anything but a love story after the first forays of lust in the heady days of a Florida summer.
The family defines the overused concept of dysfunctional. Arla's son Frank holds the family together the best he can while pining for the love of his life who just happens to be married to his brother Carson. It's a messy pile of sand spurs on a desolate beach of missed chances and tragic accidents.
Just when the story falls into the Pat Conroy fold of family heartbreak and insanity, a developer happens along to perk up heads and hold out hands.
I loved the pace of the story and enjoyed getting to know the characters created by Smith. She knows north Florida and expresses her passion for Florida, although I would have enjoyed a bit more description of the landscape. That's just my personal preference, especially when the setting is Florida between the Intercoastal and the Atlantic Ocean.
The title puzzled me, until I thought about it. The inner core of certain palms is called the heart of palm, and it is removed to create a tasty salad. At least I thought it was tasty, until I found out in some species of palms its removal results in death of the whole tree. The author doesn't make this obvious, and I only figured it out because of my knowledge of heart of palm salad. The title Heart of Palm is well suited for the plot.
It's sometimes difficult to write reviews with thorough explanations without using a spoiler. Therefore, I will simply say that the ending was not as satisfying as the rest of the novel. All in all, it's a good romp through the sea oats and marsh grasses of north Florida and a grand visit with a southern family at its zaniest best.
Most of the book concerns their four children and their families. Utima is one of those towns where you expect to see Humphrey Bogart cross the street looking seedy in the Florida heat. Those forty years later, Arla is as Bravo as they come. Frank has run her bar and grill since their father disappeared. The middle son died in an accident that just never made sense. Sofia has never been right since she loved that professor. And Carson, well Carson is kind of a creep.
The question of the hour is will one of the apples escape. From the tree? The Bravos evolve as that family never meant to succeed. They had security, yes. Carson had a semi-reputable business. The family 's bar is that joint you always see on the Intercoastal Waterway. Their coming to terms with their lives is subtle, often funny, never sappy, and rarely in a straight line. But certainly there is no contest as the land developers appear. It is the land of Bravos we have come to value. It is a basic story, with slow action, but I really enjoyed the book. The family enjoys a complex interaction which the author deftly presents to us