Venture to the seedy side of the Sunshine State in Steph Post’s Lightwood

Steph Post
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by Steph Post
Polis (304 pages, $25.95)

If you like your like your Florida souvenir shops a little trashy, your bars a little dive-y, and prefer the ramshackle charms of U.S. 441 over the speedy commute of I-75, then there should be a place in your heart for the seedy intrigue of Steph Post’s second novel, Lightwood.

Post’s noir-crime misadventure follows ex-con Judah Cannon to one of those Gainesville-to-Jacksonville towns, just after his release from the clink in Starke, Fla. He hitches a ride to his hometown; hooks up with his first true love and childhood friend; and regretfully assists his belligerent father and older brothers in a heist that unravels into a melee of  revenge, betrayal and violence — all the while incurring the wrath of a spooky holy roller.

From “the gaudy neon light of The Ace in the Hole” tavern to the “Last Steps of Deliverance Church of God,” Post’s flair for description becomes downright cinematic. I could all but picture the film adaptation — Norman Reedus  as Judah with his signature simmering stare (and dyed black hair, of course).

Some of her best lines paint a picture of the fictitious northern Florida town where the story takes place: “Silas was the type of town that would only be useful when the zombie apocalypse hit and the survivors needed an abandoned Save-A-Lot to loot and empty store fronts to hide in. And a Mr. Omelet, of course. ”

Lightwood, a name inspired the incendiary pulp of Florida pine trees, stokes fiction lovers’ yearning to feel immersed in a world we wouldn’t otherwise choose to inhabit. The story feels overwhelmingly dismal at first, but Post’s luminous prose draws us in, plunging us in a subculture of petty criminals and chaos. For those of us who haven’t lived a life involving drug deals and robberies, Lightwood recalls those unsettling feelings mixed with the curiosity experienced during a late-night after-party in the run-down home of a friend of a friend. Post, in turn, brings to life the sketchy people in the shadows who may or may not cut you for spilling their beer.

And as uncomfortable as we may feel with the Cannons and the bikers et al., we can’t help but keep reading on thanks to Post’s knack for balancing action, dialogue, character development and scene-setting.

Amidst the turmoil Judah feels toward his family, Post effectively calls into question the notion of  family loyalty at all costs. When is the influence of family self-affirming and validating and when do family members’ influence become a toxic detriment to our well-being? And why can’t we just come to terms with one or the other and be done with it? It’s never that simple.

I myself couldn’t  help but wonder who Judah would have been if he weren’t a Cannon. There’s a nobility to him, but his allegiances get him in trouble and ingrain a tacit acceptance of misery and dysfunction. Thankfully, all is not dark in the tall pine forests of Silas. Judah’s love interest, Ramey, teaches him there’s more to life and acts as the moral compass of the story, as Post explains once in an online interview. She isn’t perfect, she has some skeletons of her own, but she’s got grit and moxie, and is hopelessly devoted to Judah. Ramey and Sister Tulah, the aforementioned loony but scarily evil preacher, are two of the book’s strongest forces for good and evil, respectively.

From botched schemes to baptisms by fire, Lightwood reaches an explosive climax that is exciting and satisfying, but with some questions unanswered. Thankfully, Post is writing a sequel, which she plans to complete next year.

Post’s first novel, A Tree Born Crooked, released in 2014. Post is a recipient of the Patricia Cornwell Scholarship for creative writing from Davidson College and the Vereen Bell writing award. She has been included in the anthology Stephen King’s Contemporary Classics and many other literary outlets. She has also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was a finalist for The Big Moose Prize.

 Learn about Post Lightwood directly from the source: Steph Post will be reading with Jefferey Hess at the Book Swap in Carrollwood on July 8 at 4 p.m.

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