cover image Ivory Shoals

Ivory Shoals

John Brandon. McSweeney’s, $26 (250p) ISBN 978-1-952119-17-0

Brandon (Further Joy) takes readers on an invigorating jaunt through the Florida swamplands in a Civil War–era tale of virtue rewarded. After 12-year-old Gussie Dwyer’s prostitute mother, Lavinia, dies in 1865, he sets out across Florida to find his father, an inventor named Madden Joseph Searle who doesn’t know Gussie exists. He’s aided by various kindhearted folks along the way but faces substantial challenges: a bounty hunter with a “genius for tracking and for cold-eyed violence” pursues Gussie because he stole from a saloon owner who refused to hand over Lavinia’s earnings; dangerous thieves populate the “vast, smoldering, bested Confederacy”; the swampy landscape slows his progress; and Searle’s reprobate son, Julius, is not keen on splitting his future inheritance with a newly discovered half brother. Brandon describes the “perilous and splendid” landscape with lyric restraint, though florid excesses occasionally emerge in the dialogue (“You remind me of somebody on a stage... The way you talk,” says one woman after listening to an extended soliloquy). The same could be said for most of the novel’s characters, especially the evil ones for whom pomposity and depravity go hand in hand. These mannered flourishes don’t, however, detract from a clean, satisfying narrative. Brandon’s fans will eat this up, and it should earn him some converts. Agent: Amy Williams, Williams Company. (June)