Evelyn C. McDonald
Arts & Culture Reporter
November 11, 2020
The first thing that appealed to me about Joe Palmer’s new book, A Mariner’s Tale, was his descriptions of the island where Jake, his lead character, lives. He is describing the marshes, animals, ocean, sky that are part of our everyday lives here in Fernandina Beach. When he writes about them, we can picture the scene in a way that makes us appreciate our environment a bit more. It makes the story more real to us.
Midway through the story, another aspect of Florida life appeared in the form of a hurricane. The storm meanders across the Florida peninsula and out to the Atlantic where forecasters say it will dissipate. Instead it comes back in to land a punch, putting the characters’ lives in jeopardy. All you have to do to believe this is look at Tropical Storm Eta’s path.
The familiarity of the scene was also reinforced by the familiarity of the characters. It would be easy to just describe them as stock characters. The lone wolf hero, the crusty judge, the troubled youth are all familiar story types. The way belief can change outcomes, the redemption aspects of the story are also familiar.
In its essence, this is a story about overcoming, both grief and adversity. It is also a prime example of the way a writer can take stock characters and situations and make them fresh. There is restraint in the writing. The storm causes damage to places and people but doesn’t reach catastrophic proportions. The relationships of the characters are not taken to extremes either. The author has used people, surroundings, and situations that are familiar but has rounded them out, removing them from caricature.
If I could argue with the author over anything, it might be the ending. It isn’t the tidy ending that ties everything up so we know the outcome for all of the characters. I should have expected it but I didn’t. And that is more of a tribute to the characterization and storytelling.
I was curious about the author and did some research. I was surprised to find out that Joe Palmer is the same person who wrote the column, “A Cup of Joe,” for the Fernandina Beach News Leader for 10 years. This is his first published novel. And an enjoyable read.