Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Place We Knew Well by Susan Carol McCarthy

Review: A Family Tragedy Intersects a National Emergency

Wes Avery, a tail gunner during WWII, is a good man. He loves his wife and daughter and works hard at his Texaco Station not far from McCoy Air Force base near Orlando, Florida. His wife, Sarah, has not been the same since her hysterectomy. Now with an approaching hurricane, she is withdrawing from reality and popping pills.

His daughter Charlotte is in her senior year of high school. She's caught up in being selected as a member of the homecoming court and falling in love with Emilio, a Cuban refugee boy. Avery likes the boy well enough, but Sarah doesn't want Charlotte associating with him. This creates tension in the family and raises the specter of the family secret.

As if the approaching hurricane weren't enough, Avery notices the buildup of aircraft, including U2 stealth aircraft, at McCoy. This is the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Everyone is worried, but it affects Sarah especially.

The description of Florida at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis is excellent. For anyone alive at the time, it will bring back memories; for younger people, it provides a glimpse of what life was like at the time.

Wes Avery, the main character, is well done. He's struggling with a family situation he doesn't understand, trying to manage his gas station, and keep his fear for his family in check. The other characters, Sarah and Charlotte, felt sketchy. Sarah is a fairly typical wife and mother caught in the trap of too many pills and a harrowing time. Charlotte makes only fleeting appearances except for the beginning and end.

I enjoyed the book for the glimpse of history and recommend it for that reason. Some of the plot didn't work for me. The family secret seemed to be dragged in at the end, and the conclusion wasn't satisfying.

I reviewed this book for BantamDell.

McCarthy on the Writing Process:

 I guess my “writing process” is a holdover from when my two sons were young and my writing time was bookended by school drop offs and pickups. I was then, and still am, a morning person, which by default makes me a morning writer. These days, I brew strong coffee and attempt, by the end of the first cup, to have conquered the daily Sudoku in The LA Times. I carry my second cup to my desk and check emails, answering only those that can’t wait till the afternoon. Then I write, sometimes well, sometimes not, for three to four hours every day. What’s important—I know this from years of experiment and experience—is keeping my butt in the chair and my fingers moving on the keyboard till the good stuff shows up. Early or late, it eventually shows up. I break for lunch, always, and then edit afterward in the afternoon. I should probably cop to the fact that my morning process often begins the night before when, head on my pillow, I send a message to my subconscious about what I hope and need to accomplish writing-wise the next day, and I ask for any assistance available. More often than not, the answer is there when I wake up. I’m not always writing historical fiction, by the way. I also do a fair amount of commercial freelance writing, too. Gotta pay the bills between pub dates, you know? Alas.

About the Author:

Susan Carol McCarthy is the award-winning author of three novels, Lay That Trumpet in Our HandsTrue Fires, and A Place We Knew Well, and the nonfiction Boomers 101: The Definitive Collection. Her debut novel received the Chautauqua South Fiction Prize and has been widely selected by libraries and universities for their One Book, One Community and Freshman Year Read programs. A native Floridian, she lives in Carlsbad, California.

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