Book Review
Sunday, July 21, 2013
Recommended Reads for Lazy Days on the Beach

"Perdita, the Lost One" by Elizabeth Warner ( kindle, 2.99)

The novella has been called one of the richest and most rewarding of literary forms. Short books like "Animal Farm," "A Christmas Carol," "The Old Man and the Sea" and "Heart of Darkness" were all pithy and brilliant, telling a story with an economy of words.

The advent of e-readers like Kindle and Nook has meant that shorter books seem to be enjoying a surge in popularity. You can get through one while waiting for a plane or in the dentist's office, and a well-written one can enrich your wait.

I recently read a debut novella on Amazon that I felt did just that. "Perdita, the Lost One" is a first fiction work by Key West author Elizabeth Warner.

It's a beautifully written story and an excellent read. The main character, Estelle, is a woman with a turbulent past, stuck in an unhappy marriage to Richard, a jealous, immature man. She hopes to heal herself and save her marriage on a vacation to the San Blas islands. Instead, the distance between the couple only increase as they realize that they are happier in isolation, each doing things without the other.

While on her own, Estelle becomes attached to a homeless waif named Perdita whom she meets near their hotel. A throwaway child, Perdita was left by a group of passing gypsies and has been "trashed" and sexually abused. Recognizing the signs of abuse from early experiences in her own life, Estelle is drawn to the child and wants to take her home with her. At the same time, she comes to the conclusion that to be happy she must leave her husband.

Estelle makes plans to leave with Perdita and without him. But circumstances intervene as she discovers that there is more to adopting a troubled child in a foreign country than she realized.

A message from her husband on the plane leaves us wondering what the whole experience will contribute to Estelle's own self-realization and healing. It also hints that she might be open to reconsidering her decision about her marriage.

I very much enjoyed E.R. Warner's debut novella. This new Key West writer's talents have recently been recognized when she was named winner of the 2013 writing award granted by the Florida Keys Council of the Arts together with the Key West Writers Guild. Her entry was for a novel in progress titled "The Interview," set against the backdrop of the 1960s civil rights movement.

"Perdita, the Lost One" is available as a digital Amazon ebook and is also a hard copy through Amazon.com.

-- Reviewed by Joanna Brady Schmida.

"Street 8" by Douglas Fairbairn (Dell, $14.95)

"Nobody wants to come downtown anymore. They tell you it's like coming to a foreign country."

That's the sentiment expressed by a Miami native in "Street 8," a hot-blooded 1977 novel by Douglas Fairbairn. The title street, a literal English translation of Calle Ocho, the main drag of Miami's Little Havana, is the site of Bobby Mead's used car lot. Out of habit, Bobby still calls it by its original name, Southwest 8th Street, and from the office window of his lot, he's seen Miami transformed from a sleepy, one-season tourist town into a vibrant Latin city.

The Cubans are everywhere. They're even buying cars from him, so for the first time, he hires a Cuban salesman, Oscar Pérez, to accommodate them. Oscar, however, soon becomes embroiled in the hornets' nest of exile politics, and the trouble begins.

The problem with Miami's exile community in 1977 is that, while they're committed to eliminating Fidel Castro, they also want to wipe out his sympathizers and spies who have infiltrated their organizations. But exactly who is who?

Told entirely from Bobby Mead's point of view, "Street 8" allows him no letup. His world is contracting around him, threatening to choke him, and not even his ratty South Beach hotel room offers him any sanctuary. He has a teenage daughter but his incredibly twisted relationship with her only serves to further cut him off from the city he once loved.

The author deftly ushers the reader through the dark fringes of the byzantine world of Miami Cubans 30 years ago and we eventually learn that some of them are more interested in acquiring power in Miami itself than they are in retaking their homeland to the south.

Fairbairn, who lived most of his life in Miami until his death in 1997 at the age of 70, authored only a few novels, including "Money,"Marbles and Chalk"(1958) and the testosterone-loaded "Shoot" (1973), in addition to a couple of plays. He spent some time at sea, and, as a college student, edited the Harvard Lampoon. Following the publication of "Street 8," he spent a good deal of his time looking for bombs under his car.

This little-known novel (now recently made available on Amazon) has for decades inspired nearly every Florida-based crime fiction writer, as they'll be the first to tell you. It's an excellent noir tale, highly recommended as it offers an uncompromising look at one man caught up in a city's convulsive transition.

-- Reviewed by Mike Dennis