Stephen del Mar has visited us a couple of times on WROTE. To listen to his interview and find out more about his latest work, follow this link. Episode 048: Digital Disruption, Baby!
It’s no secret that I love Stephen del Mar’s work. He captures the whole Floridian landscape and way of life incredibly well, and it feels almost like I’m there when I read one of his books, sipping sangria and sunbathing on the Gulf Of Mexico.
Of Paradise & Purgatory moves the action to Arizona, another of my favourite US destinations. It’s all here; the heat and dust, and big skies and hot cowboys in leather chaps. The creak of saddles and the smell of sweat… Victor Cruz returns to Paradise, the town where he grew up, to bury his estranged father. The tagline reads “going home can be hell, even when it’s Paradise” and it’s a good description. Victor is gradually sucked into all the friends and family dynamics and politics, and is soon regretting his return.
As ever, there is a large cast of characters, all expertly and lovingly-drawn. There are references to Bennett Bay and its own characters, and everything is woven together with a bit of political intrigue, some magical realism, and a large dose of angst.
Victor is unapologetic, not very likeable at first, but he grew on me. I liked his honesty, the fact that he did not want the complications of a romance, that he had the courage to miss his father’s funeral even under the weight of expectation, that he snared a much younger man and was upfront with him. He was prickly about the subject of his dad, and the fact that everyone else thought the man was so wonderful when all Victor could remember was the beatings. The way he learned more about himself as time went on, and stuck to his guns with forcing others to see the truth, made me respect him even more. Yes, he came over as self-pitying at times, but that only made him more human.
The book was a colourful mix, with a café bomb and Day Of The Dead celebrations off-setting the apple-pie family imagery. There was a hint of corporate intrigue, possibly explored further on in the series, that could have been clarified more. And the magical realism was the only bit of the book that I felt uneasy with. Until then, I had not picked up any markers that it was on the cards (other than the synopsis.) The seasoning, as the author describes it, was added a little heavily towards the end, and felt slightly uneven.
But it’s a small quibble, as this is a book about Victor Cruz, and how he learns to accept both himself and the kindness of those around him. The feel is different to Stephen del Mar’s other books, in that it takes on a more serious, literary tone, but don’t let that put you off. This is great fun, a book about family, love, sex and friendship dynamics that punches way above its weight.