Sunday, March 28, 2010

Familiar Heat

Set on the Florida coast, Familiar Heat by Mary Hood enters the lives of ordinary folks -- white, black, Cuban -- shrimpers, menders, priests, a housekeeper, a stone cutter, a baseball star, and exiles from Cuba -- thirty years after the Bay of Pigs.

As the story opens, Faye Perry, married to Vic Rios, boat captain and son of a Cuban hero, executed by Castro's regime, enters the bank to do her business and interrupts a robbery. Her timing could not be worse, as the robbers choose her as hostage. Determined to somehow "live" through the horrific plans the two culprits have for her, Faye survives, but the brutal details of that survival undermine and break her relationship with Vic. As Hood details Vic's reaction to his wife's abduction, her husband notes, "'So you say she's missing, you don't say she's dead,' as though that were the sort of bad news a man could just bear to hear. but no more than that: no." Vic can't bear what happens to Faye.

"One thing leads to another" sang the the rock band the Fixx in the 1980s .. and the events that occur after this erase Faye's memory of who she was -- much less the past that cause her and Vic estrangement in the first place. Faye concludes, "[I] knew I didn't know what I was missing... but how was I to find out what got left out?"

Hood not only focuses on Faye and Vic, but on Vic's mother and her stubborn determination to immortalize her dead husband as hero after his execution, and the story of Vic's brother, Tom, a tormented widower still suffering the loss of his own wife but sympathetic to the complications of his sister-in-law's memory loss and her determination to live alone with her new life -- a life vacant of a past that knew Vic. When Tom and Vic disagree over Faye's situation, Vic tells him: "This is rich. This is biblical; this is one for the pope."

In addiction, Hood narrates the ups and downs of Zeb Leonard, family exile -- who runs away from his Chicago family and starts a new, reinvented life, and eventually has his own family, and his dream to be his own man. Once started, he makes decisions that alienate him from his wife's love, and she, in turn, shuts him out of their marriage and away from their children.

Then there is the priest, his housekeeper with a cat phobia, the stone-cutter neighbor and others who invest in the risk of caring about others.

Familiar Heat was what I would label a "big" novel.

Hood spares no detail - the Florida coast -- its vegetation, wild life, and storms --- the minute descriptions of the world of owning a small boat, its maintenance, expense, and frustrations---- the brutal violence of man to his fellow man ---- and the repercussions of brain damage -- she seems to know about it all and know it well.

Mostly though, Hood is a story teller -- stories about us and our innate powerful desire to live, to love, and to be loved.