“A spirited Southern family saga” from the acclaimed author of The Ice House: “Fans of Fannie Flagg will enjoy this novel” (The Plain Dealer).
Once enlivened by the trade in Palm Sunday palms and moonshine, Utina, Florida, 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 sister—both towering redheads, equally matched in stubbornness—are 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.
“An incandescent first novel set in the small town of Utina, Florida, whose inhabitants struggle to balance tradition and progress.” —O, The Oprah 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
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.