Monday, March 20, 2006

The Great Florida Novel

N.M. Kelby, author of Whale Season, In the Company of Angels, and Theater of the Stars, spent more than 20 years as a print and television journalist before she began writing novels. She moved to Florida after third grade with dreams of becoming a sort of sand-and-surf Nancy Drew.

With credentials like those, how could I not ask for her take on The Great Florida Novel? Here's her case:

Florida, this place that I call home, is vast and impossible and heartbreaking and beautiful and rude and dangerous and gentle. There are many great Florida novels, because they are many Floridas.

There are the tales of our firm-rooted sad history found in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston and The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. There are stories that are pre-post Modern, pre-Jimmy Buffett, tropical morality tales like Thomas McGuane’s existential tailspin, Ninety-Two In The Shade, and Harry Crews’ comic masterpiece, All We Need of Hell. And, of course, the righteous, riotous eco-anger of Carl Hiaasen’s body of work, starting with Tourist Season, cannot be overlooked.

However, if you want to understand the heart of this place, the truth of it, Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea is the best Florida novel that I can think of, even though it’s set off-shore somewhere between Cuba and our Keys.

Of course, that’s not much of a surprise. Truth, like everything in Florida, is always a little ‘off-shore’ in one way or another.

Still, this novella about a man and his relationship to the sea really pares us down to our bones. The sea is why we all come here, why we stay, and why those who leave always are filled with regret. Our relationship to the water is what defines us. Of his 'Old Man’ Hemingway says:

“Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.”

If you look into our hearts, and our eyes, you will see this too. Despite the hurricanes, the floods, and the fury of summer, we stay. We have to. We have no choice.

That's very well put.

N.M. Kelby's latest book is Whale Season.

"In her first two novels, Kelby dared to ask Big Questions in spare, affecting prose. ...(now she) has taken a break from her philosophical pursuits to journey deep into the whacked-out fantasyland of Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry..." --New York Times Book Review

"Whale Season is purely delightful—rich, clever and crawling with affectionately twisted characters. Nicole Kelby is a natural-born storyteller who manages to be very funny and very wise at the same time." -- Carl Hiaasen, author of Skinny Dip, Hoot, and Tourist Season

For a long list of additional praise the novel has received, please click here.

Listen to N.M. Kelby's Minnesota Public Radio interview and a reading from Whale Season here.

Click here to enter a contest to win a signed copy of Whale Season.

Nicole's first novel, In the Company of Angels, also enjoyed a wonderful critical reception.
"Kelby's lovely language fuses sensuous specificity with metaphoric resonance.... To read Kelby's novel is, in its own words, to fall into a dream, a flying dream. And to paraphrase and summarize such fine spun fiction must inevitably be as inadequate as any attempt to retell your most amazing dream the morning after." --New
York Times Book Review
Thanks to Nicole for her insights on The Great Florida Novel.

--Marshal Zeringue

For The Great Illinois Novel, click here.
For The Great Michigan Novel, click here.
For The Great California Novel, click here.
For The Great Oregon Novel, click here.
For The Great Texas Novel, click here.
For The Great Louisiana Novel, click here.