I don't care about the prizes a book wins, or the reviews it gets. What I want most in a novel is a great story. It is the reason I hate really stark, bare-bones type books. It is the reason I so enjoyed Alice Hoffman's Turtle Moon.
Turtle Moon takes place in Verity, Florida, a town chock-a-block full of divorced women from the northeast who are escaping not only from the cold, but also their sad pasts. The story begins in the month of May, which is considered by all the inhabitants of Verity, to be the most horrible month of the year. It is the month turtles crowd the streets and sidewalks and crunch beneath car tires. It is the month the heat and humidity make everyone's hair frizz and tempers flare. It is the month behaviors change and unusual things begin to happen. It is the month the unhappiest and unluckiest man in Verity was born, and also when an accident happened that changed his already tragic life. It is the month when a young mother, with a mysterious past is murdered, her baby girl kidnapped and their miserable twelve-year-old neighbor runs away from home. All of these circumstances come together to create a fantastic tale of love, loss, pain and redemption.
Hoffman is a masterful storyteller and legend in the field of magical realism. She deftly uses the magical elements, as well as the swampy, foggy setting to lend the story a dreamlike quality. Her characters are strong, well-developed and consistent. Once I started the book, I could not put it down. I rapidly became invested in the characters, their lives, and their futures. My only real criticism is that I feel Hoffman dropped the ball on one of the secondary character's threads. To go into much detail about it would ruin the resolutiuon of the book, but suffice it to say, the answer to a major question is discovered, then the thread is just dropped with no real punishment for the perpetrator. The only follow-up Hoffman offers is one word: "karma". In the end her story does not find all the characters totally happy, but they have all grown and changed, and in that way it feels right.