Review: Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel (with book club notes)

23 Mar

Stiltsville: A Novel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars (before the book club meeting)
4.5 of 5 stars (after the book club meeting)

A look at the life of a very normal woman, with normal challenges, over the course of many years. A quick, enjoyable read.

Summary via the author’s website:

One sunny morning in 1969, Frances Ellerby finds herself in a place called Stiltsville, a community of houses built on pilings in the middle of Biscayne Bay. It’s the first time the Atlanta native has been out on the open water, and she’s captivated. On the dock of a stilt house, with the dazzling Miami skyline in the distance, she meets the house’s owner, Dennis DuVal—and a new future reveals itself.

Turning away from her quiet, predictable life back home, Frances moves to Miami to be with Dennis. Over time, she earns the confidence of his wild-at-heart sister and the approval of his oldest friend. Frances and Dennis marry and have a child—but rather than growing complacent about their good fortune, they continue to face the challenges of intimacy in the complicated city they call home.

I really liked this book while reading it, and I’m having a hard time pinpointing what made it work so well.

I think I just really liked that it was a book that was about an ordinary life– 25 years of one. I recognized some of the situations Frances found herself in, others will never happen to me, but might to other people I know. Some things could have had an entire book written exploring the ins and outs of that particular situation, but here, they all are part of the ebbs and flows of life moving along.

The book focuses on the relationship between Frances and Dennis, starting when they meet for the first time (at the house in Stiltsville), and continuing as they marry, have a child, and continue their lives together.

I was going to say that time wasn’t wasted on minutia, but that isn’t quite right. It’s just that the minutia that comes up is somehow important, whether because it reflects on the characters (when Frances and her best friend swap dresses at a wedding, and find they are both happier), or because it reflects more deeply into what is happening (Frances taking her daughter Margo to get her ears pierced marks a coming of age for Margo, but also highlights the the relationship between Margo and her parents, and not in the obvious way).

And that’s life. The details make up the whole.

Book Club Notes

I read this book with one of my book clubs.  This was one of the books my friend Ruth won in an on-line giveaway. (10 copies of 12 different books!  Although we never did get all of them.  This is the 4th one we’ve read and discussed).

I was a little worried about how the discussion would go, since I was having trouble articulating what made the book work for me.  I felt more secure once I had the discussion questions from Susanna Daniel’s website.  As it turns out, we didn’t really need them.

I wasn’t alone in finding it difficult to capture my thoughts on the book– several people said that while they were reading it, they really liked it, but when they were done, they stopped and asked “Why?”.  Each of us was able to identify a different aspect of the book that we appreciated, and talk about the questions that popped up for some club members.

In the end, my opinion of the book was strengthened by the meeting.  I was able to recognize the range of characters, all of which were balanced in their strengths and weaknesses.  I grew to understand more what did (or didn’t) drive Dennis and Frances.  I appreciated the choice of moments that made up the book as a whole. And more than any of that, I appreciated having a book club that could help me love a book even more than I had before.


Posted by on March 23, 2011 in Book Club, books, L, reviews


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7 responses to “Review: Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel (with book club notes)

  1. Susan

    March 23, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    This novel was sent to me by the author. I connected with the novel because I lived in Miami in the 80’s and I used to go to my grandparents home too.

    I too could not explain why I liked it. But what I can say, is that I liked the story from the beginning of marriage to the up and downs of their problems. They were not traumatic. But just from the beginning of their relationship to the their marriage, and their children, and finally the death of the wife. I quess living in a marriage to the end of her( wife) life, that portrays the death of the marriage.

    • Laura

      March 23, 2011 at 10:25 pm

      I thought about not approving comment this due to the spoiler– they I realized that it isn’t a spoiler for the book as I (and my book club) read it! We did make some observations about the cycle of life, the cycle of their marriage, and the house in Stiltsville that sound like what you noticed– it would have been fun to have your thoughts at our meeting.

  2. RobynBradley

    March 24, 2011 at 9:20 am

    Sounds like a great book — it’s nice to read about real life in a way that rings true yet is “fresh.” Love your line: “And that’s life. The details make up the whole.” How true. Will add to my (ever-growing) list.

  3. Rebecca Rasmussen

    March 24, 2011 at 10:48 am

    I love this book — and that cover got me from the beginning! Great review — sometimes it’s nice not to be able to clearly figure out why you liked a book. Love the intuition of your response 🙂

  4. Julie @ Knitting and Sundries

    March 27, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    For some reason, I really like books that illustrate the regular ebbs and flows of life; being able to really relate to the characters and their experiences adds so much. I have this on my wishlist already! Thanks for the review!


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