I decided to post an expanded version here of the review I wrote for GoodReads. I will probably get my Arachis Review pages going shortly and put it up there, as well --- my intention is to start AR as a review site and then expand to full magazine.
Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society
by Amy Hill Hearth
I will state right off that I grew up in the Naples in which this book is set. The author’s husband was a classmate. However, I actually missed a couple years when the story takes place, as my family went back to Ohio from 1961 to 1963 to take care of my grandmother in her final days and then straighten out her estate. But I know the years on either side.
Although I note a few of what I would consider minor inaccuracies in the details (Swamp Buggy Days are in the fall – to coincide with the start of hunting season – not spring), they do no harm to the plot. So they don’t matter. And I probably remember things differently than the author’s husband. :)
Still, Naples was never quite so backwards and ‘red-necky’ as portrayed here — my folks remembered Gertrude Lawrence hanging out on the pier back in the early Fifties, smoking and fishing, and Gary Cooper, Lawrence Tibbett, and Gloria Swanson all spent time there — it was a place for more ‘laid-back’ celebrities and well-to-do sorts who didn’t want to spend their time on golf courses or in fancy hotels (unfortunately, that changed, which is why I no longer reside there). A lot of residents were Northern by birth; the town was essentially founded by Yankees.
The first-person narrator ends up telling a good bit of the story in the third person. This does become a bit clumsy in spots and provides neither the immediacy of a first-person viewpoint nor the insights of true third-person, as the narrator gives her accounts of interactions to which she was not party. There is a certain amount of ‘she did this’ and ‘he did that,’ to the detriment of character development. Yet the characters do manage to find their way through, for the most part.
And this is a character-driven book, with the plot serving largely as a vehicle for their exposition and to chronicle their growth. It does this both well and economically. They are folks we find ourselves caring about by the end of the novel.
I might have appreciated a little more exploration and description of Collier County itself. That is, perhaps, an odd thing to admit for someone who frequently complains about ‘over-writing.’ The prose is, shall we say, a bit flat and reporter-like.
‘Miss Dreamsville’ could have been a larger and more ambitious book, had the author chosen to write it as such. As it stands, it’s a quite decent and interesting read. On a scale of one to ten, a pretty solid seven.