Some authors are able to make first-person narrators real within just a few pages, and Patricia Engel certainly has that gift. Reina’s voice is perfectly authentic from page one. All her complicated feelings about her family are laid bare: her ambivalence towards her flighty mother, the void of feeling where her absent father would have been, and most of all, her guilt and shame over a horrific crime committed by her brother, Carlito, now in solitary confinement on death row.
Reina’s life in adulthood is rootless, with her brother in prison and her mother selling the family home in Miami. Eventually, after yet another devastating personal loss, Reina finds herself drifting down to the Florida Keys. Aimless at first, she is eventually drawn into connections with other people and with the unique Florida landscape, where land and ocean, and everything that lives on and in them, meet.
Engel’s writing is beautiful, and I was quite invested in how Reina’s life would play out, but I think I’ve about reached my saturation point on family dramas. I typically love literary fiction about relationships and dysfunction, and I’m sure I’ll come back around to it again, but for now, I’m looking for more page-turning action than deep introspection. I blame the approach of flip-flop and lemonade weather. There’s something about summer that makes me crave fast, fun reads. Hopefully as this month rolls on, I’ll be able to find a few titles that satisfy that craving.
With regards to Grove Press and NetGalley for the advance copy. On sale today, May 3!