As regular readers of this blog will know, I am a fan of books that touch on the supernatural and/or the realm of faith. Books that explore this topic with creativity and imagination are always appreciated.
So when saw that Saints in Limbo by River Jordan was one of the June “Blogging for Books” Tour books I signed up. Here is the publishers summary that intrigued me:
Ever since her husband Joe died, Velma True’s world has been limited to what she can see while clinging to one of the multicolored threads tied to the porch railing of her home outside Echo, Florida.
When a mysterious stranger appears at her door on her birthday and presents Velma with a special gift, she is rattled by the object’s ability to take her into her memories-a place where Joe still lives, her son Rudy is still young, unaffected by the world’s hardness, and the beginning is closer than the end. As secrets old and new come to light, Velma wonders if it’s possible to be unmoored from the past’s deep roots and find a reason to hope again.
It turned out to be an interesting story with a unique style and perspective. But the story gets a little convoluted and the prose style sometimes gets in the way.
The strength of the book is two fold: 1) is the plot hook of the “special gift” and its powers 2) the character of Velma.
The mystery behind the rock that the mysterious stranger gives Velma and the powers it possesses adds suspense and a sense of the supernatural to the story. It pulls the reader in seeking to know more about this unique gift and its purpose in Velma’s life. And Jordan does a good job of using this hook to introduce the setting and the main characters.
Jordan’s style has a touch of the Southern Gothic to it. The writing verges on the florid at times; and there is a sense of foreboding throughout. For much of the novel this works well to set up the picture of Velma all alone in her house out in the Florida countryside having this unexplainable encounter and trying to come to grips with her birthday present. All this while a teenager from Texas leaves home to find Velma, her son’s life seems stuck in neutral, and the her closest friend faces a serious health concern. Are these unrelated events or part of a larger explanation?
Jordan’s descriptions of both the setting and these characters can be quite well done. I found Velma in particular a sympathetic and interesting character. You can feel the connection she has with the land and the struggle she is facing as she grows old; her memories both a blessing and a curse.
The first chapter is a good example of Jordan’s clear skill. Here is the book’s very first paragraph:
It was the kind of day when even the lost believed. When possibilities were larger than reason, when potential was grander than circumstance, when the long, dark days of doubt were suddenly cast off and laid to rest. Brushed away with a smile and a certainty. And in this moment, from this place, you knew the real magic could happen.
With Jordan’s introduction you know right away that this is not just another story of psychological realism. And you are transported to this fictional place eager to explore.
But at some point the language begins to get in the way of the story. In the classic truism, Jordan needs to do less telling and more showing. Let me give an example.
Velma’s son Rudy is falling in love with bar/pizzeria owner Rose and vice versa. But both are unsure of how to handle it or deal with their emotions. Rose asks Rudy if he would care for some “coffee and conversation” and here’s how Jordan captures Rudy’s response:
Rudy Smiled. “That’s what I was hoping for.” Then the place inside of Rudy that had been jumpy and nervous settled down, and he could breathe a little easier.
The entire novel is what I would call over-narrated in this way. Jordan describes and adds a flourish to every emotion and inner thought. As I noted, sometimes this flowery language is well done and artfully handled. But at some point the weight of it all just slows the book down and kills the pace.
And in similar fashion, when describing the lives and histories of her characters Jordan loses focus. The tension and suspense over the rock’s mysterious purpose is dragged out for too long and the relationships between Velma, Rudy, Sara, Rose and Annie just seem to drag on.
When the story finally comes together for the climax there is an urgency and tension but for too much of the middle the pace sags and the story lines become convoluted. If this was a series focused on the town of Echo, Florida it would be easier to understand. Readers of series often tolerate a slower pace and more character side stories; at least I find that to be the case. But here it just drains the energy.
Don’t get me wrong. This wasn’t one of those books I hated or wanted to quit reading. It is more that the story started with a lot of potential and it never quite met that potential. Maybe I am just an impatient Northerner!
If you like Southern Gothic style with inspirational check out Saints in Limbo.