Welcome to the TLC Book Tour for Stiltsville
Frances traveled from her Georgia home to Miami to attend the wedding of a friend. After graduating from college, Frances had taken a job as a bank teller and moved into her own apartment. But she was really just drifting, waiting for her life to begin. She met Marse at the wedding and the two women decided to take a boat ride the next day. They ended up in Stiltsville, a small community of houses literally built on stilts one mile south of Cape Florida in the middle of Biscayne Bay. The structures stand on wood or reinforced concrete pilings, generally ten feet above the shallow water, which varies from one to three feet deep at low tide. There, Frances met Marse’s friend, Dennis, in whom Marse confessed to Frances she was interested. But a romance between Dennis and Marse was not destined.
Dennis, an attorney who abhorred his job, and Frances were instantly attracted to each other and Frances began spending so much time in Miami with Dennis that she lost her job, so she simply stayed and, after growing ever closer, married Dennis the following year, 1970. Soon they had a daughter, Margo, but they efforts to have a second baby were futile, forcing Frances to come to terms with the fact that she would only have one child for whom she was deeply thankful.
Margo grew into a prepubescent, average student with no particular passion for any subject, sport or extracurricular activity. She was physically advanced for her age and when she reached fourth grade, the school suggested that she skip ahead to sixth grade where her physical development would more closely match that of her classmates. But the transition was wrought with difficulties and Margo found parenting increasingly difficult and angst-inducing. Margo eventually went away to college and surprised her parents by announcing that she had met a young man there, Stuart, and intended to marry him.
As the years pass, Margo and Dennis find themselves weathering many different types of storms that threaten their marriage, family, and happiness. Remarkably, despite the fact that Dennis was attracted to Frances rather than Marse, the three remain supportive, steadfast friends. They also maintain a close-knit relationship with Bette, Dennis’s only sibling. Frances finds that she needs the love and encouragement of Marse and Bette, as well as Margo and Stuart, when she and Dennis face their greatest challenge.
Stiltsville was and is a real community off the Florida shore. As a child, author Susanna Daniel spent weekends there in the house her grandfather built in 1954. Sadly, it was completed destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1993. The structures are, because of their design, delicate and subject to the ravages of nature. And they provide both a uniquely beautiful backdrop and elegant metaphor for the themes explored in Stiltsville.
Stiltsville is the story of a marriage, a life lived together by two people over the course of more than two decades. Fiction mimics real life — the Stiltsville house in the book was built by Dennis’s father and is a cherished part of the family history. As with Daniel’s family stilt house, it is destroyed by a hurricane — only the moorings remain — leaving Dennis and Frances to decide whether to rebuild it. The stilt house is as fragile and delicate as the intimate ties that bind a husband and wife together. It weathered many storms over the years before finally succumbing to the powerful hurricane. Daniel explores whether her main characters’ marriage can survive.
I told him, Thank you, over and over. I told him, Thank you for my life.~ Frances in Stiltsville
Stiltsville is also a story of friendship. Marse, Bette, and Frances are strong but very different women. Marse is an independent professional who has dated many men over the years, but never married. Bette is rather eccentric and free-spirited, but devoted to her brother and sister-in-law. Frances is firmly rooted in her marriage, but temptation looms. The three are neither threatened nor intimidated by each other, and unconditionally support each other. Through an absence of back-stabbing, petty jealousies, and betrayals, Daniel makes a strong positive statement about the beauty, strength, and resilience of female friendship.
Stiltsville is a story about parenting, with one particularly interesting and unique story line pertaining to Margo. The ramifications of her parent’s decision to have her skip the remainder of fourth grade and fifth grade in its entirety are explored in heartbreakingly authentic detail. This is a topic about which I have insight and empathy for the character of Margo because I skipped third grade and went directly into fourth grade, and experienced many of the same problems as Margo. She simply wanted to fit in with the other kids and have close friendships, but did not know how to accomplish that because, although she was on par with them in terms of physical development, she was socially inept and unsophisticated in comparison to the older girls. Frances and Dennis struggle with their decision, second-guessing themselves and pondering whether Margo should return to the fourth grade before wisely realizing that because of the choice they made, she no longer belongs there — she doesn’t belong in either grade. The characters’ dialogue and emotions ring true and make for compelling reading.
Lastly, Stiltsville is a story about resilience and the myriad ways in which relationships endure despite hardships and challenges. Its beauty lies in its deceptive simplicity and ordinariness. It is not a complicated, complex or action-packed tale. Frances, Dennis, et al. are not remarkable people. They are, rather, just like us and, for that reason, their story resonates because it could be our story or our neighbors’. Readers will find themselves rooting for Dennis and Frances, wanting them to succeed and thrive. Striltsvilleis an exquisitely crafted, tender story — so impressive that it is difficult to believe it is Daniel’s debut novel. Daniel says about through the book she hopes “to give [readers] the gift of a love story — because who among us couldn’t use another one of those?” She has succeeded brilliantly. I look forward to reading more of Daniel’s work in the future and highly recommend that you move Stiltsville to the top of your summer reading stack.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of Stiltsville free of charge from the author in conjunction with the TLC Book Tours review and virtual book tour program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Enter to Win a Copy of Stiltsville
One lucky reader, selected at random, will receive a copy of Stiltsville, generously provided by the author.
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