Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel

A marriage is made up of so many different things: history, love, attraction, and the unknowable and unexplainable. We've been surprised when certain couples have divorced and have not been able to fathom what keeps others together. You just never really know what is going on in someone else's marriage. The only people who do are the two who are in it day in and day out. This novel gives an uncensored glimpse into a marriage, uncovering everything and allowing the reader to truly experience what we never can in life: someone else's marriage and life.

After a friend's wedding in Miami, Frances heads out to Stiltsville, a tiny community of stilt houses in the middle of Biscayne Bay, with a woman named Marse she's only just met at the wedding. They intend to spend a lovely relaxing day in the water and the sun with Marse's brother and Dennis, whose family owns the house. What Frances finds out there on the water, is her future husband. The native Atlantan moves to flamboyant Miami for Dennis, eventually starting a marriage and a family that the reader will follow for the next 25 years.

The novel tells the story of this everyday marriage, of its ups and downs, the challenge of raising a daughter together, the temptations that intrude, the waxing and waning of passion, the times of financial worry and unhappiness, the times of celebration and contentment, but most of all of steadiness and commitment. Daniel carefully draws the small, seemingly unimportant decisions that end up changing the direction of a life and a marriage because it's the commonplace as much or more than the extraordinary that drives regular life. Frances, the main character and narrator, is a little distant at times, holding her deepest feelings close to herself. We have to take on faith her abiding love for Dennis, her friend Marse, and her sister-in-law Bette since this is not a book of grand gestures but instead of the daily and the enduring. These secondary characters, including daughter Margo, are captured in snapshots, more shade than flesh, as ultimately unknowable to the reader as to Frances, as it would be in real life.

The plot is not mundane and yet it doesn't deal with the extraordinary very often. Daniel does weave in some of the terrible and affecting news of the time: the beating death of Arthur McDuffie and the acquital of the police officers in the case, the murders at the University of Florida in 1990, and Hurricane Andrew that flattened most of Stiltsville. These events serve to ground the story firmly in time and place. Without major happenings driving it, the pace of the novel is fairly slow. It's not an adrenline-charged summer read but instead a forthright look at the work involved in maintaining a marriage and facing the challenges of life with another person.

For more information about Susanna Daniel and the book visit her webpage, check out her Facebook page, and follow her on Twitter.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. Sometimes the best books are those about normal, everyday life. This sounds like one of those.

  2. I wasn't sure whether to pick up Stiltsville or not, but you've convinced with this sentence:

    Daniel carefully draws the small, seemingly unimportant decisions that end up changing the direction of a life and a marriage.

    I love to read this kind of thing because, as you pointed it, that's what makes life.

    Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. "the work involved in maintaining a marriage" - keeping a marriage together does take a lot of hard work, and I think that most books gloss over that fact. Sounds like this would be a great (but not too light) summer read!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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