Entertainment » Books

Stella Maris And Other Key West Stories

by Christopher Verleger
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Apr 19, 2019
Stella Maris And Other Key West Stories

Key West is one of those magical, mysterious places - like Maui, Palm Springs, New Orleans or Vegas - that one has to visit to truly appreciate. Considering its exotic locale, the preponderance of artists in residence, and a culture that embraces decadence, I wonder why it isn't a more commonplace setting for films and television.

Prize-winning author Michael Carroll has crafted "Stella Maris: And Other Key West Stories," an alluring, unapologetically audacious collection of anecdotes, episodes and novellas that profile the thoughts and actions of individuals from every socioeconomic status, political affiliation, age group, and sexual orientation. Carroll calls just enough attention to each of these characters before they quickly disappear, leaving their fate and purpose to the reader's imagination.

All eight stories read like diary entries, dripping with tawdry innuendo, catty commentary, and lurid, painstaking detail. The first few entries are inexplicably brief, and reach their conclusion seemingly mid-sentence, yet arouse enough interest to at least give the reader pause and spark enough curiosity to continue reading.

A man of certain age, recently divorced, takes in the sights at a gay guest house during a cruise excursion, in "Sugar and Gold." Rick, the surviving half of a couple, remembers his late longtime partner, Gene, in "Primal Recognition," and a voyeuristic travel writer reflects upon life and love in "The Leisure Classless."

The proceeding stories increase in length and intensity, aforementioned characters reappear (as well as resounding themes, like the 2016 election and hurricanes Irma, Stella, and Wilma), and the author paints a more thorough, substantive picture of the narrators and respective subjects.

The complex, titular entry is narrated by the widowed Dale, grieving his marriage of convenience to Karen while vacationing at an all-male, clothing-optional establishment. (Anyone who has visited Key West will recognize the renowned, renamed "Fantasy House.") Sisters Dee and Jenny spend their last holiday aboard a cruise ship in "The Other Way Out," and Dee's gay son, Randy, has more than his share of relationship struggles.

A community reminiscent of Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City" mourns a deceased drag queen in the delectable "Key West Funeral," and the equally delightful "Every Night, a Splendor" is a veritable soap opera featuring characters young and old, gay and straight.

The collection closes with the enlightening "The Book About Perry," a moving examination of an acclaimed novelist's husband and his attempt to write a memoir about their marriage.

Those familiar with Key West will especially appreciate the author's keen, spot-on observations, and strangers to the area will likely have discovered their next vacation destination. This is a colorful, candid collection of stories that amuses, provokes thought and takes its readers on an emotional journey.

"Stella Maris: And Other Key West Stories"
By Michael Carroll

Chris is a voracious reader and unapologetic theater geek from Narragansett, Rhode Island.


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