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Stiltsville: A Novel Hardcover – August 3, 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 143 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2010: It may be a sign of the times that many stories about marriage unfold on a stage of high emotional drama, where the sparks stop flying and start sparring, for better or worse. There may be catharsis in those kinds of stories, but there's often little joy, which is what makes this quiet and tender debut so disarmingly good. Stiltsville is a story of a marriage that begins with serendipity--that holiest of relationship grails--one warm summer day in Miami. It's 1969 when girl (Frances, the novel's clear-eyed, guileless narrator) meets boy (Dennis, who in Frances's estimation is "careless but lucky") at one of a copse of houses built on stilts in Miami's Biscayne Bay. That such a place existed is incredible now, and in the scenes that reconstruct its peculiar beauty, Susanna Daniel ushers you into an exotic and unpredictable corner of the country. It's a perfect place to fall in love, and Frances and Dennis do, without fanfare or pretense. Theirs is a love that almost instantly becomes constant and real, full of simple happiness that makes it possible to weather the storms that come. --Anne Bartholomew

Curtis Sittenfeld Interviews Susanna Daniel

Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Prep, The Man of My Dreams, and American Wife, and Susanna Daniel, author of the debut novel Stiltsville, met at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Here they talk about friendship and its role in—and beyond—novels.

Curtis SittenfeldCurtis Sittenfeld: One of the many things I love about Stiltsville is that it starts with the main character, Frances, making a new friend, Marse, and then pretty much immediately falling for the guy Marse likes. Yet these two women become very close, even though only one of them can get the guy. Were you consciously defying stereotypes about female friendship, or did this just feel like the organic way to depict these characters?

Susanna Daniel: There's a lot of bad press out there regarding female friendships, which are so much more nuanced than stereotypes would have us believe. When Frances meets Dennis, her friendship with Marse is just beginning, but already they both know there's potential. Neither woman wants to throw that away. There's a moment when Frances tells Marse that it's not like her to flirt with -- not to mention steal -- another woman's guy, and their future pretty much hinges on Marse believing her. Which she does. To grant your friend permission to pursue what might turn out to be the love of her life -- that's a sign of trust and humility, which Marse is strong enough to give.

CS: So much of Stiltsville is about Frances' marriage to Dennis. I'm wondering how you think getting married and having children -- or not getting married and not having children when the people around you are -- changes the nature of women's friendships.

SD: I think there's a lot of truth to the idiom that it takes a village -- Susanna Danielnot only to raise a child, but to support a marriage. Because their lives take such different paths, Frances and Marse must make exceptions for each other that they might not make for other friends. Their differences might have divided them, but instead, Marse becomes a member of Frances' family in a way that a married friend could never be. Late in the book, Frances says that Marse had been almost like a second wife to Dennis in some ways, over the years. But she loves and trusts Marse like a sister, and when Marse's life changes unexpectedly, Frances must look outside her own troubles to support her friend the way she's been supported for so long.

CS: Two of Frances' best friends are her daughter, Margo, and her sister-in-law, Bette. What are the particular pleasures and complications of friendships with family members?

SD: Bette, Dennis's sister, is one of the most complicated characters of the book. In order to forge a friendship early on, Frances must become a confidante of Bette's, which isn't an easy thing to do. Unlike Marse, who remains in Frances' daily life until the end, Bette has to choose between family and love partway through the book -- and the choice she makes breaks Frances' heart. But later, Frances has to make a similar choice with regards to Margo. Moving away from family, in Stiltsville, is not a choice made lightly or without a lot of heartache, but sometimes it's the only way for a character to grow.

CS: You and I met in 1999, on our first day as graduate students at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, when we were the only two women in a class of eight. One of the most frequent questions I get about having attended the Workshop is whether it's competitive and back-stabbing. How do you answer this question?

SD: The program is definitely competitive in nature, though not back-stabbing. Writing isn't a team sport -- ultimately it's all about you and what you produce. No one can undermine you if you're focused and ambitious. That said, workshopping material is not for the faint of heart -- not because people are back-stabbing but because they are bright, experienced readers, and devastatingly honest. At the same time, I'm grateful for the Workshop for many reasons, not the least of which is that it's where I met the woman who continues to be my great reader, advocate, and friend: you.

CS: You're the friend I've learned the most from because you're so smart and opinionated, and you also see the world in a really different way than I do. But now that we're publicly exposing our friendship, do you think it will go the way of Gwyneth and Winona's? Also, in this scenario, which of us will end up shoplifting from Saks and which of us will dispense frittata recipes on a lifestyle website?

SD: I think I'm the boring domestic of the two of us, so it might be me with the web site (I think you probably disagree with this assessment). But then again, you're staunchly ethical, so I can't see you going the way of Winona. I think a better model for our friendship, which I'm proud to publish, is that of Ann Patchett and Elizabeth McCracken, two writers who for decades have read for each other and supported each other while living in different cities. What I hope is that we continue to enjoy the differences between us -- as writers, mothers, wives, friends -- and never let them distance us. When we met, we hadn't yet made the decisions that would root our lives, as we have now. I look forward to a future when maybe we don't live so far apart, and maybe our kids play independently together while we kick back and read magazines and talk about what Winona and Gwyneth are up to these days. Because who even remembers that they were friends once, except the two of us?

From Publishers Weekly

With its lush flora and constant sun, South Florida is the true star of Daniel's exquisite debut, which follows a marriage over the course of 30 years. In 1969, having traveled from Atlanta to Miami for a college friend's wedding, 26-year-old Frances Ellerby meets glamorous Miami native Marse Heiger, who introduces her to Dennis DuVals and his house on stilts in Biscayne Bay. Though Marse has set her cap for Dennis, he and Frances fall in love and marry within a year. "I had no idea then," Frances says, "what would happen to my love, what nourishment it would receive, how mighty it would grow." Dennis and Frances have a daughter, Margo, buy a house in Coral Gables, and their life together proceeds as a series of ups and downs, beautifully told from Frances's pensive, sharp perspective. As the years pass and Miami changes, so do Frances, Dennis, and Margo, and the nuances of their relationships shift and realign, drawing inexorably toward a moving resolution.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (August 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061963070
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061963070
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (143 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,036,138 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By K. Harris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on August 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Susanna Daniel's evocative and tender "Stiltsville" has a quiet power built from the small moments and decisions that shape a lifetime. Spanning decades, "Stiltsville" is ultimately a love story--or you might even call it a life story--about a young couple who fall in love and spend the rest of their days together. In Frances and Dennis, Daniel has created a very believable centerpiece with which to explore how people evolve as a product of their environment and their relationships. Sweet, funny, and surprisingly matter-of-fact at times--"Stiltsville" manages to avoid romanticism and cliche by being so grounded and believable.

Set in South Florida, "Stiltsville" manages to convey a real sense of place. The stilt houses, the fishing, the country club set--the Florida that Daniel creates is as essential to the story as are its inhabitants. Beginning in 1969, Frances and Dennis meet and are instantly drawn to one another. The novel is structured with each chapter representing a fast forward in their relationship until the book concludes in 1993. These moments in time can vary from humorous to touching to tense to heartbreaking--and together they form the basis for a life in total. In addition to the main couple, we come to know their friends and Dennis' family as well as their daughter and her eventual husband. While "Stiltsville" does seem to cover a lot of ground, I never felt that any of the characters were shortchanged.

And that is the primary strength of Daniel's work--the protagonists and supporting players are all fully realized. Even when you don't always like the decisions they make, you can identify with their mistakes. I came to genuinely care about every principle character--no small feat when you consider the episodic nature of the narrative.
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Format: Hardcover
Susanna Daniel has a talent for taking the ordinary and transforming it into breathtakingly beautiful prose. Her description of a marriage is so honest and detailed that it will certainly resonate with many readers. I was entranced by the story and its characters, and could not put the book down. A perfect read for summer or for any time of year that you'd like to be transported to balmy Miami.
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Suzanna Daniel

When I first read the reviews and praise and hype for this book I was eager to get it immediately. It sounded like my kind of a book and I wanted to read it as soon as possible. It was a bit of a slow read at first. I liked the story and was getting interested in the characters but I started to wonder why I wanted to read it...why did I bump all of my other books down to the bottom of my queue and choose this one? But soon I was caught up in the events in the lives of this Florida family. Frances, Dennis, Marse, Bette, Gloria, Grady, Margo, Scott and many other characters. The only way that I can describe this novel is sort of like the peeling of an artichoke. You read about one event and that leads you to the next event and the next and the next and the next after that. I think for me it was reading about ordinary people dealing with all of the day to day and year to year events in their lives. The struggles and the triumphs and the mistakes and the joys are all wrapped up in these houses and the neighborhoods in and around Miami beginning in the 1950's and ending at the end point of a 26 year marriage.

Stilthouses, of course, play an important role in this story. It is where Dennis and Frances met...it is where their story begins. There are actually still stilthouses in Biscayne Bay near Miami, Florida. They look odd and unsafe and beautiful. The stilthouse in Dennis's family seems to be a point of refuge and happiness for them during the various upheavals in their lives. They provide an escape and a getaway during trying times.

I loved this book. It touched my heart and soul. I cried as the story ended. Suzanna Daniel writes lyrically and beautifully and masterfully. It was one of my favorite reading experiences so far this year. This story and this family will stay in my thoughts for a long time.
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Stiltsville is written as if it is a memoir but it is a work of fiction. I found myself neither able to put the book down nor eager to pick it up. I read Stiltsville over a couple of days but soon realized that as a story it was "middle of the road".

Some books are exciting and you eagerly wait to get to the end while other books put you to sleep and trying to go past chapter one may be a chore...Stiltsville was neither.

Susanna Daniel creates a somewhat interesting story of a young woman, Frances Ellerby, who is on the path of self-discovery. The book is narrated through the eyes and voice of Frances. While the storyline may be interesting...it clearly reminds me of a tale a grandmother would share with her children or grandchildren. I, personally, did not encounter the drama, temptation or chaos that was supposed to be part of this story line.

Those "exciting" elements were promising but elusive and unfulfilling in the storyline. They were often hinted and referred to but not developed or described in such detail that I would feel the emotion behind the situation. The lack of "fire" in the story left me rather cold about the central figures.

Imagine ordering a decadent, mouthwatering chocolate molten cake dessert and instead receiving vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. It's good but definitely not in the same league...so it is with Stiltsville.
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