Heart of Palmby Laura Lee Smith
Utina, Florida, is a small, down-at-heels southern town. Once enlivened by the trade in Palm Sunday palms and moonshine, Utina hasn’t seen/b>/i>/i>
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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
Utina, Florida, is a small, down-at-heels southern town. Once enlivened by the trade in Palm Sunday palms and moonshine, Utina hasn’t seen economic growth in decades, and no family is more emblematic of the local reality than the Bravos. Deserted by the patriarch years ago, the Bravos are held together in equal measure by love, unspoken blame, and tenuously brokered truces.
The story opens on a sweltering July day, as Frank Bravo, dutiful middle son, is awakened by a distress call. Frank dreams of escaping to cool mountain rivers, but he’s only made it ten minutes from the family restaurant he manages every day and the decrepit, Spanish-moss-draped house he was raised in, and where his strong-willed mother and spitfire sisterboth towering redheads, equally matched in stubbornnessare fighting another battle royale. Little do any of them know that Utina is about to meet the tide of development that has already engulfed the rest of Northeast Florida. When opportunity knocks, tempers ignite, secrets are unearthed, and each of the Bravos is forced to confront the tragedies of their shared past.
Reminiscent of Kaye Gibbons, Lee Smith, Anne Tyler, and Fannie Flagg, Heart of Palm introduces Laura Lee Smith as a captivating new voice in American fiction.
"Like a sandspur, Heart of Palm sticks with you, drawing blood."--Rita Mae Brown, author of The Sand Castle
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 . . . . 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
[An] incandescent debut novel . . . 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
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
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
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Meet the Author
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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