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on May 26, 2004
In blissful prose that demands attention, Schutt is ruthless, brutal and passionate, as she tells the story of a motherless daughter. From the beginning I am in tears, so deeply does this small novel reach into the hidden places of my heart. Even while the author's transcendent words fill me, my mind reaches to my own mother, in her final days railing against a world she refused to relinquish.
Alice, namesake daughter, is a child born to survive her environment, with a mother who seeks emotional safety in confinement to a sanatorium. There follows a series of homes, but never one of her own and a need to find comfort in a world bereft of comfort, after her father's death and mother's virtual abandonment.
In her ensuing sleep-over life, little Alice must always ask, "may I...?", remain unobtrusive, be pliant, flattering. Moving from her Uncle Billy and Aunt Frances' possession-filled, strict-ruled, child-proofed home to her Nonna's luxurious estate, Alice spills her heart out to an old woman who can barely move, rendered speechless by a stroke. Her sleep-over life motherless and rudderless, Alice grows up with a vengeance, scraping a private existence from the leftovers of others.
Meeting her mother again later in California, the two women move cautiously around each other. In prose that reads like poetry, Alice describes this mother in a series of stark, hurtful observations and the realities of her own life as the generations turn full circle, Alice the woman, a mother almost indistinguishable from the silent Nonna.
Women of a certain age, and there are many, will find this part of the novel exquisitely painful, full of recognition. Florida reflects a validation of women, their ability to survive the direst of circumstances. Here is understanding for the terrible errors made by family, both intentional and unintentional. In the end, Alice's mother is "an old woman, made innocent". So are they all, their frail bones leached of ill intentions, forgiven by years of attrition. This slight book contains the experience of a lifetime, ridged with sorrows and shallow joys too meager to squander. Florida is a rite of passage and an exorcism of grief; I am in awe of this author's talents. Luan Gaines/2004.