Heart of Palm by Laura Lee Smith
When I first read Laura Lee Smith’s hefty, eager, and incandescent debut novel, Heart of Palm, I couldn’t get the astonishing and benighted Bravos out of my head, and I didn’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.
All or Nothing by Preston L. Allen
This is one of those books that will haunt your dreams and your days. Allen has done for gambling what William S. Burroughs did for narcotic addiction. He’s gotten in to the heart of the darkness and shown us what it feels like to be trapped, to be haunted, to live without choice. Allen is relentless and unsparing in his depiction of the life of a gambling addict, from the magical thinking to the visceral thrill of risking it all. A gambler lives on hope, and a gambler will kill to keep that hope alive. Wouldn’t you? Preston L. Allen is so good a writer it’s scary.
Last Train to Paradise by Les Standiford
This is historical nonfiction that reads like a suspense novel. Standiford chronicles industrialist Henry Flagler’s hubristic attempt to build a railroad over the ocean through the Florida Keys to Key West, an unimaginable dream at that time, that became and an inconceivable achievement—or would have, if not for the catastrophic Category 5 Labor Day hurricane of 1935, which killed more than four hundred people on the Keys and washed away the railroad. This is one book you won’t put down until you’re finished. So pour yourself a drink and sit down in that easy chair.
Up for Grabs by John Rothchild
Before the days of Bernie Madoff and other morally depraved Wall Street scam artists and thieves, Florida was up for sale to the highest bidder, even if the sellers didn’t actually own the land, or the land itself was, in fact, under water. Financial writer Rothchild documents the outrageous wholesale pillage of pristine South Florida real estate with intelligence and humor. The insanity will leave you shaking your head. You couldn’t get away with this kind of fiscal depravity and bravado in fiction. No one would believe it.
Magpies by Lynne Barrett
A superb collection of short stories by one of our finest storytellers and prose stylists. These tales of crime and conflicted relationships have the depth and texture of novels. You can feel the humidity in the air and the menace on the streets in my favorite story, “Texaco of Biscayne”. I’ve been to that gas station and it still scares me. Here is Florida in all its grotesque guises, complete with hurricanes, con men, and sinkholes.
No Regrets, Coyote by John Dufresne is out now from Serpent's Tail.