Laura Lee Smith’s Heart of Palm captured my heart first with its setting in north Florida where I lived for thirty years, and second, with its quirky Bravo family drawn in the best of southern family traditions.
The Bravo family lives in the fictional small town of Utina on the Intercoastal just a short drive from St. Augustine. The development all over Florida forgot this sleepy little village until one day it becomes apparent that this gem of a location might be the perfect spot for a new resort.
The mother of the Bravo tribe, Arla, came from the upper crust of St. Augustine society when she married the hapless Dean. A typical story, except that Arla is anything but typical, and her relationship with her husband is anything but a love story after the first forays of lust in the heady days of a Florida summer.
The family defines the overused concept of dysfunctional. Arla’s son Frank holds the family together the best he can while pining for the love of his life who just happens to be married to his brother Carson. It’s a messy pile of sand spurs on a desolate beach of missed chances and tragic accidents.
Just when the story falls into the Pat Conroy fold of family heartbreak and insanity, a developer happens along to perk up heads and hold out hands.
I loved the pace of the story and enjoyed getting to know the characters created by Smith. She knows north Florida and expresses her passion for Florida, although I would have enjoyed a bit more description of the landscape. That’s just my personal preference, especially when the setting is Florida between the Intercoastal and the Atlantic Ocean.
The title puzzled me, until I thought about it. The inner core of certain palms is called the heart of palm, and it is removed to create a tasty salad. At least I thought it was tasty, until I found out in some species of palms its removal results in death of the whole tree. The author doesn’t make this obvious, and I only figured it out because of my knowledge of heart of palm salad. The title Heart of Palm is well suited for the plot.
It’s sometimes difficult to write reviews with thorough explanations without using a spoiler. Therefore, I will simply say that the ending was not as satisfying as the rest of the novel. All in all, it’s a good romp through the sea oats and marsh grasses of north Florida and a grand visit with a southern family at its zaniest best.