Florida Woman by Deb Rogers Book Review
21 books to read this summer
Initially on no particular assignment, Jamie drifts through her days observing the odd behavior of animals and humans alike. Although the women welcome her effusively and seem to just want her to feel cared for, Jamie feels left out of her closest circle. She desperately longs to be a part of their hushed conversations, their conflicting standards, their suspiciously mysterious “rituals.”
Obviously something else is happening here. Through a first-person narrative, Jamie observes any clues that should ring alarm bells—they’re bound to make the reader suspicious—but time and time again, she talks her way out of her instincts. One night, Jamie secretly witnesses an unsettling ceremony that flouts all the rules of the site, but the next morning “the whole thing seems too confusing to discuss and I wanted to get it out of my head.” After saying something even more bizarre Jamie is aware that “something primal inside me, deep in my marrow, told me to run.” But just moments later, “another impulse, green and searching like the tendril of a grapevine, told me that I had been invited to stay, that I could choose to stay.”
After a while, the accumulating evidence, which Jamie deliberately ignores, becomes boring. It puts the reader so far ahead of the story that Jamie seems rather dim for what she is: a victim caught in a cycle of abuse and emotional holding back. The story of how a person gets caught up in such a situation is worth telling, but we don’t understand enough of Jamie’s emotional character to understand why she behaves the way she does. Throughout the book, Jamie remains a largely blank slate, maneuvered around to serve the plot. “I had no idea what to do when … Sari was saying cryptic things or performing impromptu rituals like this other than playing along and hoping that it would eventually work out.” Jamie’s playing along is often the only thing that drives the story forward, the loses momentum like a crisp shirt on a hot day.
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Florida Woman’s greatest strength is its sense of place. Rogers knows the sun-kissed life of the sandy shores as well as the wet wilderness of the interior. “No photograph could have prepared me for the swarming mosquitoes,” she writes, “or the way the thorny greenbrier vines and cabbage palm saplings rustled and rattled in front of my steps as unseen creatures fled their cover.”
Rogers’ affection for the animals of Atlas is also clear. Jamie admires a monkey’s cheeks, “so pink they looked like blush had been applied by a senior citizen in the dim light of the bingo hall bathroom.” melted with raspberry-orange sorbet”.
Mostly Dead Things captures the humor and strangeness of Florida without the simple clichés
As Jamie’s summer drags on, events at the sanctuary come to a head and she finds herself in the climax of the novel. Jamie’s transformation is so longed for it can only feel cathartic, and the story’s conclusion is efficiently constructed and stitched together into an ending that is well planned and satisfying, if not exactly plausible or surprising.
I had high hopes for Florida Woman because I am one. Though Rogers strikes a gentle balance between the madness and wonder of my home state, the promise of this backwoods mystery falls into the hands of a weak protagonist.
Ellen Morton is a writer based in Los Angeles.
Hanover Square. 351 pages. $27.99
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https://www.washingtonpost.com/books/2022/07/05/florida-woman-book-review/ Florida Woman by Deb Rogers Book Review