Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel

On a recent trip to the mall, I happened upon a book store going out of business.  Twenty minutes and fifteen dollars later, I exited with seven new books by authors I was unfamiliar with.

One of those books was Stiltsville, by Susanna Daniel.

Having spent a lot of time in Miami I was intrigued by the cover synopsis:

One sunny morning in 1969, near the end of her first trip to Miami, twenty-six-year-old Frances Ellerby finds herself in a place called Stiltsville, a community of houses built on pilings in the middle of Biscayne Bay.

It’s the first time the Atlanta native has been out on the open water, and she’s captivated. On the dock of a stilt house, with the dazzling skyline in the distance and the unknowable ocean beneath her, she meets the house’s owner, Dennis DuVal—and a new future reveals itself.

Turning away from her quiet, predictable life back home, Frances moves to Miami to be with Dennis. Over time, she earns the confidence of his wild-at-heart sister and wins the approval of his oldest friend. Frances and Dennis marry and have a child—but rather than growing complacent about their good fortune, they continue to face the challenges of intimacy and the complicated city they call home.

Stiltsville is the family’s island oasis—until suddenly it’s gone, and Frances is forced to figure out how to make her family work on dry land. Against a backdrop of lush tropical beauty, Frances and Dennis struggle with the mutability of love and Florida’s weather, as well as temptation, chaos, and disappointment. But just when Frances thinks she’s reached some semblance of higher ground, she must confront an obstacle so great that even the lessons she’s learned about navigating the uncharted waters of family life can’t keep them afloat.

In all honesty, the first half of the book proved disappointing to me.  I struggled to continue reading.  It took an unusually long time for me to wade (no pun intended) through the diluted story line.   Susanna Daniel apparently had trouble imbuing conflict into the story.

However, at about the middle mark, the pace quickened and conflict developed; a story finally revealed itself.  I actually found myself making time for the book.

The second half of the book drew me in with plausible events.  I turned the page eager to learn what Frances would do.

It was no surprise to learn that Susanna Daniel took about 10 years to write this book.  It is obvious that she gained much real-life experience in that time – it shows in her work.  It is almost as if the two halves of the story were penned by different authors.

In the last few chapters, Susanna Daniel won me over.  Without ruining the story for you, I will say that the emotion of life, love, and the rewards of a long successful marriage are clearly conveyed.  I almost cried at the end of the book.  Susanna did a great job of bringing the story full circle.

I would recommend Stiltsville as a good summer read for persons with patience.  The end is certainly worth the read.  On a scale of one to five “novels”, I give Stiltsville a three Novel rating.

I hope to see more from Susanna Daniel.  I believe she has matured as a writer.  If she can bring the same quality she brought to the second half of Stiltsville to her future novels, she will be a big success.

You can find a copy of Stiltsville at Amazon.

Please note:  Stiltsville is a real place.  To learn more about Stiltsville, visit Wikipedia or the National Parks Service (http://www.nps.gov/bisc/historyculture/stiltsville.htm).  Better yet, next time you’re in Miami, take a ride out to Biscayne Bay and see the stilt homes for yourself.

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