By J. Roslyn
Robert E. Schiller, a life-long and highly sought-after public education administrator now serving as the interim superintendent of the Falls Church, Virginia, public schools, knows basketball, and in “Papaya Sunset,” he manages to draw the reader into the excitement of a close game, a last minute basket, and the intricate moves of the players.
As skillfully and colorfully as he describes a basketball game, he tells the story of Stewart Anderson (Sam) Mackenzie, an extremely successful Chicago lawyer who married into a wealthy society family in his early 20s, became a partner in his father-in-law’s law firm, and whose life goes bottom up after his extra-marital affair is discovered.
On a “sabbatical,” a euphemism for being tossed out of his family and his law firm, Sam lands in Key West, aboard his sail boat, the “Jump Shot.” The crisis of his forced sabbatical coincides with his middle aged crisis. Together they are a five alarm fire. We learn that Sam was a star, All American, basketball player who destroyed his leg while making a game winning shot. With pro-basketball an impossibility, he allowed his girlfriend’s well-connected family to take control of his life: marriage, law school, partnership, and summers on Mackinaw Island.
After sleepwalking through his life, Sam lands in Key West (the “Conch Republic”), apparently as far from a button down, white shoe law firm as he could get. If you have visited Key West, you will appreciate Schiller’s wonderful description of its people, its food, its bars and restaurants, and the beauty of its sunsets.
Schiller also skillfully introduces us to the colorful people who befriend Sam, including Freddy, the extroverted Cuban fishing boat captain who loves women from the cruise ships because they get back on the ship and leave after a passionate night. They also include Moira and Felicia, a beautiful Cuban refugee and her small daughter. Schiller clearly has a talent for bringing his characters to life. Although a tad didactic, each character has a chance to tell his/her story and each has a different, recognizable voice. This is the hallmark of a good writer.
“Papaya Sunset” is a good read. I know little about basketball, but Schiller kept me involved in the game. Similarly, Schiller skillfully framed Sam’s middle aged crisis without resorting to tired cliches. This is definitely a five star book.
- Print Length: 409 pages
- Publisher: Robert E. Schiller (January 27, 2016)
- Publication Date: January 27, 2016
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
Two highly rated historical novels by Radha Vatsal, set in New York City during the years leading up to America entering World War I, “The Front Page Affair,” and, “Murder Between the Lines,” will be reviewed in News Press online, and on jroslynsbooks.blogspot.com later this week.