Ivory Shoals, the story of an intrepid trek across Florida, is filled with deadpan humor, exquisite landscapes and the musings of a precocious young man who calls it like he sees it. The novel follows 12-year-old Gussie Dwyer, a boy traveling across the state after the Civil War, searching for the father he never met. In his fourth novel, John Brandon (A Million Heavens) explores the loneliness of a child alone in the world (the aftermath of the death of his prostitute mother) and the unexpected companionship he finds during his journey. The inner musings of other Floridians--an oblivious inventor, a scheming half-brother, a jealous servant and a cutthroat bounty hunter--are interjected throughout Gussie's narrative, rounding out a brilliant set of bizarre, original and intriguing characters.
Although there are bits and pieces of action throughout (including murders, train hopping and nighttime raids), this is first and foremost a work of historical fiction. Florida--and particularly Florida in 1865--is as much a character as Gussie or anyone else. Throughout the adventure, the prose is dotted with sumptuous details, delivered with flowing beauty: "The great naked cypresses towering above, while their smooth-skinned knees jutted up from below like lost monks in their robes. Yellow-tongued cow lilies and floppy canna flowers. Above, a bodiless ceiling of ash." Brandon places readers in this vivid setting, and populates it with thieves, heroes, desperate souls, emancipated people, vengeful sons and kindly old men. The result is a novel of total immersion. --Simone Woronoff, freelance writer and reviewer