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Florida Paperback – November 1, 2005
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When Alice is 10, her mother is sent to a psychiatric sanitarium in Florida. With her father's death five years earlier, Alice is essentially an orphan, and she rotates through the homes of relatives in what she calls her "sleep-over life." Sometimes she stays in her grandmother Nonna's home with three floors, eleven baths, and bedrooms galore but little love. Alice's aunt and uncle have two homes, one near Nonna's and one in Tucson, from which Alice is shuffled back and forth with the seasons, her only friends being the family chauffeur and an English teacher who encourages her literary bent. In brief journal-like chapters, Schutt, author of Nightwork (1996), zeroes in on Alice's murky memories as she attempts to establish her identity in the uprooted world she has inherited. The minimalist plot and sometimes nebulous characterizations may put off some readers, but Schutt's perceptive handling of time capsules embedded in Alice's memory, such as her aversion to nursing homes and funerals, marks her as a writer to watch. Deborah Donovan
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"This slender book grows plump on language . . . Florida, like family, is a land where cruelty and tenderness can be nearly indistinguishable and the border between love and rage too often disappears."--Newsday
"The luxury of this debut novel is its rich, descriptive language. It's harnessed with powerful simplicity."--The Christian Science Monitor
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Note how bad relationships for both Alices have "Walters".
Florida, a sunny warm place, represents safety for both Alices, yet they both remain in cold climates until the mother Alice gets out of the San from which she really isn't cured. Daughter Alice is functioning, but has many of her own issues which can be seen to be represented by her remaining living in the cold climes of New York.
As is often the case, Uncle Billy and Aunt Frances have finally discovered that they have, if not love, then a deep acceptance for one another foibles, in their old age. This is often a real happening. Once couples hit a certain age or place in their in their marriages, they tend to be accepting and to stop looking outside for excitement and place energy.
y to the marriage. They have finally resolved their issues and moved to their warmer clime, Tucson. This is what Alice sees, but I don't think she understands.
This story highlights the problem of elderly abuse from Alice knowing her Nonna wants to eat certain foods and still allowing her to be forced to being forced to eat other things to being forced to wearing clothing that causes her pain. Her mother loses her dignity by being forced to eat with patients who are insane and tease her mercifully about being younger. Her aunt and uncle are continuously robbed and Alice is aware of it yet she is aware of it. Later, she allows their driver to drive faster than instructed even though he has been told to drive slower several times by his employer, her elderly aunt. Theses are all examples of elderly abuse that could have, and should have, been stooped.
Because no one has ever told Alice the truth of how her father really died or what kind of man her father was, she has continually made up dreams about him and how he died. In many ways this has made her life more difficult because she has never had any kind of closure about him.
I loved the first half of this novel; both the prose and Alice are alive on every page. To some extent, the novel reads like a puzzle as the pieces of this lonely child's life fall into place. Schutt disregards chronology and plot, but Alice's story is presented in impressionistic episodes, and much of it is disarmingly wry. The substance lives up the style.
But, as the series of adults in Alice's life fail or disappoint her, and as Alice becomes an adult herself, Schutt's novel becomes increasingly sparse, harder to pin down, more open to ambiguity, less attuned to plot; Alice vanishes behind the prettiness of the author's poetry. In an interview, Schutt has argued that writing "should be hard and clean in the sense that there is nothing extraneous about it, no feathery adjectives." Yet plucked of too many feathers, prose can also seem skeletal, and the author turns the poetry of her prose (much like Alice's Florida paradise) into a desert of expectations and dread. ("It was cold where we lived; I was most often thirsty." "I walk in the desert carefully. I know about snakes.") There are random bits of exquisiteness in the novel's final pages--just as one can find beauty in a desert. But readers, too, might suffer from thirst.