Tom Winton must be channeling the spirit of Ernest Hemingway. If you liked “The Old Man and the Sea”, you’ll love “A Second Chance in Paradise”. Like Winton’s previous book, “Four Days With Hemingway’s Ghost” this novel has a lot in common with old Papa’s titles. It’s about a “wounded warrior”. It takes place in the Florida Keys. There’s a lot of fishing, ocean storms, and battles of several kinds that pit man against nature. When the hero, Sonny, lands a 165 pound fish, the description is so vivid that you’ll swear you’ve suffered line cuts on your own hands, and you’ll wonder why your back hurts.
Sonny Raines is a furniture salesman in New York. After telling his boss off, and quitting his job, he comes home to find out his wife, Wendy, is having an affair. He packs his bags into his old van and heads for Florida to start a new life. He settles into a small town just outside Key West where he meets good common people who also have battle scars like his own. He finds a new job, makes a new life, and falls in love again. But while he is at it, he gets pulled into a dispute about a real estate developer, protected mango trees, and a threat to the new life he’s learned to love.
If you’re a fan of Hemingway’s scarred heroes, and you want to read a six-star future best seller, here you go. If you are a budding author who wants to study the work of a master, well, this is how it’s done, son.
Agents and editors will blog and write articles about the “rules” of writing, and point to techniques that no author should even think of sending in. It is a rare and talented writer who can get away with breaking those rules. One of those rules is that a writer should never say “little did he know”. Another rule is that background information should be delivered in small doses. Too much background at one time is known as an “information dump.” As a rule, background should not exceed more than a page at a time.
In this story, Winton successfully uses the “I didn’t know this at the time, but…” ploy, and follows it with pages of background that cover Julie’s engagement to her former fiancée, a car accident, and a resulting handicap. It’s done so smoothly that the reader doesn’t even notice the rules are being broken. After reading that chapter, I had to stop and consider the feat this author pulled off. I read the chapter again, just to admire the beauty and skill of the way it was written.
The love scene is also excellently portrayed. While written from a man’s point of view, using tasteful language and descriptions, the scene comes off the way a woman wants it. It’s not just climactic, but tender and loving at the same time, giving, not taking, passionate, yet tender. Wendy was a complete fool to ever let Sonny go.
The action scenes are also tastefully described, yet make you gouge the edges of your Kindle and squirm in your seat. These scenes prove that, with skill, a writer doesn’t need to resort to guts to make a book gut wrenching.
The only thing that could possibly improve the story would be if Sonny realized that being sterile is a sort of handicap, too. That would have motivated the ending better, but even without that insight, the ending will make you say “aaaaaaaah” and you’ll be tempted to read it again and again.