Big story, small town a perfect fit

A mysterious man blows into town on Christmas Eve, falls in love with the first woman he sees, marries her sister, then dies tragically -- leaving his young son to make sense of it all on his own.

So begins "Waiting for April," a grandiose epic that author Scott M. Morris squeezes into the unlikely locale of rural Citrus, Fla., one of those lookalike towns that teenagers long to escape from and tourists drive through without stopping.

Amazingly, it's a perfect fit.

Instead of being diminished by its unexotic location, the story is enhanced by the sweaty incestuousness that pervades Citrus. By the end of the book, the narrative is inseparable from its Florida Panhandle setting. We begin to accept that Citrus is just one of those places that breeds tragic heroes, one of those places that the outside world of the big city will never quite understand.

The narrator is Royce Collier, the fatherless son who grows up with only a vague understanding of how the various members of his family fit together. Royce does have, however, a definite awareness that everyone from his Aunt April to his mother to the owner of the local bait shop are somehow involved in his father's death and determined to keep him from learning the details. The story unfolds as Royce describes how he puzzled through the rumors and half-truths until adulthood.

Morris' strength is in his characters. Though the title suggests that the story centers on April, and Royce argues that he's telling the story of his dead father, the real narrative is about how none of these characters can escape each other. These strong but broken people manage to flourish even as they discover the truth about that Christmas Eve stranger.

Just as in his first novel, "The Total View of Taftly," Morris manages to handle his characters with both sensitivity and humor. Royce is to be admired for his physical strength, pitied because he's been shut out of his own life and laughed at for his inability to comprehend his high school girlfriend.

April starts out as the beautiful everywoman, desired by all, but starts showing her cracks midway through the narrative. By the end, she has become one of Morris' more complex characters.

"Waiting for April" combines the intrigue of a soap opera with the melodic prose of a writer who listens carefully to the world around him and knows how to convey what he hears.


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