The backstory: Stiltsville is Susanna Daniel's first novel. It was featured as one of Amazon's August 2010 Best Books of the Month. When I went to read more about it, I discovered an interview with Susanna Daniel and Curtis Sittenfeld, who wrote my favorite book ever, American Wife (my gushing review). They met at the Iowa Writer's workshop, and that was enough of an endorsement for me.
The basics: Stiltsville begins in 1969 when Frances, a young girl from Atlanta, has visited Miami for a wedding and meets Dennis. Each chapter takes place in a different year (in chronological order) of Dennis and Frances's marriage.
My thoughts: Susanna Daniel's writing captured me from the beginning. I saw a lot of myself in Frances, despite the difference in time and place. I was prepared for the novel to move forward in time, but I thought each year would get its own chapter. The first big jump concerned me, but it worked wonderfully well. There was never a moment of disorientation. Thanks in part to confident foreshadowing, there were both Frances's honest emotions at the time and a more mature perspective. I always felt as though Frances was telling the story of the time at that time, but when those moments of wisdom and glimpses of the future came, I welcomed their ability to add even more dimension to the characters and story.
Stiltsville is not just the story of this marriage. The years Daniel allows the reader to glimpse into the lives of Frances and Dennis are mostly crucial years in Miami history. It is as much a novel about how events shape one's life and memory as it is a novel about marriage. I'm a huge fan of historical fiction, and some of my favorite parts of this novel were the historical elements. I was not familiar with most of the events in this novel, but I looked into several of them while reading Stiltsville.
The verdict: It's the most emotionally engaging novel I've read in quite some time. I often struggle writing reviews for books I adore, and I found nothing to criticize in Stiltsville. It may not be a universally appealing novel, but it has become one of my favorites, and I eagerly await Susanna Daniel's next novel.
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: August 1, 2010
Source: my local public library
The interview with Susanna Daniel and Curtis Sittenfeld is delightful, but I wouldn't recommend reading the first half of it before you read Stiltsville if you are at all averse to spoilers.
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