Heart of Palm

( 4 )

Overview


“[A] fine, funny first novel . . . A heaping dose of Southern soul with a whole lot of chutzpah thrown in.”—Gina Webb, Atlanta Journal Constitution

Arla Bolton had been warned never to marry a Bravo. From the country-club set in genteel St. Augustine, Florida, Arla gave it all up to marry Dean Bravo and move to Utina, best known for the trade in Palm Sunday palms and moonshine. Opportunity has passed by both Utina and the Bravos for decades, but Arla was young and in love and ...

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Heart of Palm

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Overview


“[A] fine, funny first novel . . . A heaping dose of Southern soul with a whole lot of chutzpah thrown in.”—Gina Webb, Atlanta Journal Constitution

Arla Bolton had been warned never to marry a Bravo. From the country-club set in genteel St. Augustine, Florida, Arla gave it all up to marry Dean Bravo and move to Utina, best known for the trade in Palm Sunday palms and moonshine. Opportunity has passed by both Utina and the Bravos for decades, but Arla was young and in love and blind to how her choice would change her life. Now Dean is gone and she shares a ramshackle waterfront house with her willful daughter, Sofia, nursing her losses and wondering if Dean’s doing the same wherever he is. Frank, her dutiful middle son, manages the family restaurant without complaint, while he dreams of escaping the Florida heat to cool mountain rivers, and dreams of his brother Carson’s wife, Elizabeth, whom he’s loved since adolescence.

In short, the Bravos are due a break—and when the phone rings one July 4, it seems a developer wants to bring development to Utina at last, provided the Bravos agree. But are Frank, Arla, Sofia, and Carson ready? Ready or not, it seems the phone call has set off a chain reaction. Two surprise arrivals, one late-blooming love story, one hedge fund scam, a truck full of melted Key lime pies, and a bittersweet reckoning or two later, Heart of Palm reveals what happens when opportunity knocks, tempers ignite, and long-buried secrets are unearthed.

Like Fannie Flagg’s Whistle Stop, Alabama or Richard Russo’s Empire Falls, Utina and its inhabitants are a town that will live in readers’ memories. As the Bravos confront the tragedy in their past and attempt to embrace the hope in their future, Laura Lee Smith establishes herself as a warm, wryly witty, and captivating new voice in American fiction.

“An incandescent first novel set in the small town of Utina, Florida, whose inhabitants struggle to balance tradition and progress.”—Abbe Wright, O Magazine

“Remarkable . . . 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.”—Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Independence Day is a turning point for the Bravo family of small-town Utina on Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway. It’s the day they must consider a multimillion-dollar offer for the formerly backwoods, now valuable, land surrounding the family restaurant and their adjacent home. For the contentious brood’s matriarch, 62–year-old Arla, the deal would mean ending the reclusive life she’s led since her feckless husband Dean decamped two decades ago. For her emotionally volatile daughter, Sofia, it would mean losing her home. For Carson, the eldest son, the windfall could cover the Ponzi scheme he’s been running out of his St. Augustine investment firm, while for middle son Frank, the restaurant manager, it might mean a new beginning with Carson’s wife, Elizabeth. For all of them, accepting the offer would involve leaving the place where the youngest brother, Will, died tragically 20 years ago on July 4, the victim of his father’s irresponsibility and his brothers’ jealousy. 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 as she chronicles the lives of her “Southern Crackers,” mired in bad behavior and feelings of inferiority. She turns a phrase with wit, especially when good old boys discuss football (the Florida Gators) and sex. Like a long hot summer, the plot meanders through daily events and combustible emotions, but gains depth with a prodigal’s return, a wedding, a marital separation, two deaths (spoiler alert: one is a dog), a sibling brawl, a botched shooting, and a surprising final twist. Writing with agility and empathy, Smith ends this atmospheric family saga on a note of reconciliation and forgiveness. Agent: Judith Weber, Sobel Weber Associates. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
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 loss—breathtaking, harrowing loss and how it can be withstood—and 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 end—which comes with a delightful twist—the 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 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.”—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 by—and 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

Library Journal
This outstanding debut novel tells the story of the Bravo family, headed by matriarch Arla. Arla was once a sought-after beauty from a wealthy family in St. Augustine, FL, Dean Bravo stole her heart—Dean Bravo of the Utina Bravos, a family known for lawlessness and troublemaking in the trashy town nearby. Tragedy strikes on their honeymoon, and the young couple are never quite the same. In the present day, long after Dean’s subsequent desertion of Arla and their kids, the Bravos are sitting on now-valuable real estate, but whether it’s up for sale is a fight within the family: Carson, a shady “investment counselor”; Elizabeth, his long-suffering wife; Sofia, the oldest and only daugher, dealing with mental health issues; and Frank, the stoic defender of everyone else, denying his own dreams.

Verdict Reminiscent of the works of John Irving, with its close-knit but oddball family, weird tragedy at regular intervals, and its very dark sense of humor, this is an engrossing and rewarding read.—Amy Watts, Univ. of Georgia Lib., Athens

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
Amiable debut novel of life in the nonglitzy part of Florida, the swampy confines of the Georgia borderlands. Utina is a definitive backwater, literally. But it's close enough to Jacksonville and the interstate to be attractive as the site for potential development, a prospect that makes some of its oddball mix of residents very, very happy. From the best family around, Arla Bolton--she of the mangled foot, wherein hangs a tale--went off years before and married Dean Bravo, proving that good girls love bad boys and that, as her mother archly observes, "[l]ove won't be enough." Sure enough, years later, shiftless Dean now smells money in the air. He and Arla, meanwhile, have begat a far-flung family that, as one member puts it, is a "frigging pack of oddballs and failures for whom he'd been wrestling with shame and ambivalence his entire life." Well, so it is with all families. Other characters in Arla's orbit are clearly more worthy of a share, such as the rugged young man named Biaggio, who "was a handsome man, but so beaten. Oh, but they were all so beaten." In a slowly, gently unfolding comedy of manners, 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 by--and usually not succeeding. In the end, Smith overlaps territory John Sayles explored in Sunshine State, but with a more generous sense of our foibles. It's a promising start--and a lot of fun.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802121028
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/2/2013
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 1,395,676
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Laura Lee Smith

Laura Lee Smith’s short fiction was selected by guest editor Amy Hempel for inclusion in New Stories from the South 2010. Her work has also appeared in The Florida Review, Natural Bridge, Bayou and other journals. She lives in Florida and works as an advertising copywriter.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2013

    Great book, interesting characters

    Good story with interesting characters and location. It is even better if you know St Johns County, Florida.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2013

    A great read!

    I enjoyed this book very much. I read this book in 4 days. It was a page turner. The characters and story line were very enriched. As a reader I got very involved with the emotions of the Bravo family. The setting of the small Floridan town, I felt like I was there. It was wonderfully descriptive writing. I believe this was the first published book from this author and I am looking forward to read her futures endeavers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2013

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    Posted May 12, 2013

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