Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"Remembering Blue" by Connie May Fowler

Have you ever read a book where you felt afterward that your heart has been wrung out? Or that you have been hypnotized with some mysterious essence that has crept into your soul? These are the emotions I am experiencing after reading this book (my first book in my TBR Challenge). I am smitten. Perhaps for different reasons than the average reader, but my guess is that this novel would work its magic on you too. Many of you may have heard me wax fondly about a little corner of Florida (just tell me to shut up if you have heard this too many times), in the panhandle, that is nearly untouched by the loud, garish development and consumerism that has taken over much of my state. It is a place where there are thousands of species of birds living peacefully, the smell of salt water that permeates everything, roads lined with little seafood shacks and docks, and any local would be happy to stop and pass the time chatting with you about why their corner of the world is special. This is the setting for Remembering Blue.

At its heart, this is a love story. It is also a testament, as we learn from page one, to the life and legacy of the late Nick Blue by his grieving wife.

The story begins with a young woman named Mattie, whose father abandoned her as a child, and whose emotionally unavailable mother recently died. Mattie has few ambitions, and although she is very self-aware and well-read, has been beaten down to the point where she no longer believes she is intelligent or beautiful. Then one day Nick Blue walks into the handy mart where Mattie works, and they immediately form a connection and thus begins their whirlwind love affair. Nick is a salt-of-the-earth guy, a romantic, who sees the beauty and potential in Mattie that the rest of the world has ignored. He has recently left the island where his family lives and works, for reasons I'm not sure I ever fully understood. Did he want to escape the fate of his forefathers...premature deaths on the shrimp boats that provide the Blue family their livelihood...or did he just want to see what else was out there? Nick cannot stay away from the sea for long, however, and he and Mattie move back to the island.

The island was founded by Nick's ancestors, and is not accessible by car. It resides off the coast of Carrabelle, and actually exists in real life, but the name has been changed (probably to keep tourists from storming it). It is here that Mattie begins blossoming. She discovers the meaning of family, of maternal bonds, of tradition. She learns to identify bird species, shell species, how to garden, how to cook, and how to build things with her sweat and her own two hands (freedom by carpentry, she calls it). She becomes her husband's fishmonger, selling his shrimp to seafood wholesalers, making friends on the mainland, and goes to college. She rides out a large hurricane on the island with the Blue family. She is transformed into a butterfly, and you can't help but love her.

This story is a gift. Fowler's writing has a mesmerizing cadence that washes over you. I liken the experience of reading this book to swinging lazily in a hammock on the back porch on a warm summer day, with a gentle breeze blowing. Fowler captures every wonderful detail of this niche of the panhandle, every quirk and nuance, even the insane experience of preparing for and surviving a hurricane. It includes references to the little shops and historic inn in Apalachicola, Highway 98, and the oysters that make this part of the world famous. My little slice of heaven. But, we know from the beginning that Nick is going to die, and as the book progresses, it weighs heavily upon the reader. You will fall in love with Nick just like Mattie did (although I have some doubts as to whether a man such as this truly exists!) and you don't want to see him go. It is heartbreaking, but at the same time, heartwarming. I shall very much look forward to reading two other books by Fowler that I received for Christmas. She is truly a talented writer.


Literary Feline said...

This sounds like an amazing book, Sandy. I'll have to add it to my wish list. Thank you for the great review!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Thanks Wendy! You are my first comment on this review, probably because the author generally flies below the radar. She did write a book called "Before Women Had Wings" that I think was made into an Oprah TV special. I haven't read that one yet, but is high on my list. Even if you aren't enamoured with the rural panhandle area of Florida like me, you would fall in love with this book I think.

Monica said...

So glad you posted such a wonderful review of a book by a gifted author who's one of my favorites. I've been a fan of Connies since day one and I think this book is her best so far. It makes me yearn for the state where I spent my childhood, but when I read it during our long, cold Ohio winters, it takes me back to when I was a kid playing along the Intercoastal with my friends, making sure not to step on sticker burrs in the hot sand, waiting from my parents to drive us to the beach. Thanks for recognizing a good read.