Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Book Review: 'Skinny Dipping in Cane River' by Phylis Caskey

Louisiana author Phylis Caskey is a passionate traveler and spent considerable time in Europe before returning to the university setting to study French and Fine Arts. Her topics of interest include all things Southern, French history, and medieval history. SKINNY DIPPING IN CANE RIVER is her debut novel.

Phylis captures that Southern flavor in her characters' speech, in the manner in which she paints the landscape wherein she places her story, and includes that special brand of Southern mystery that has become an essential part of American literature. IN her opening to the book, once we have met Julian and Brett James, brothers returning after fifty years, and Julian describes his status: ' The room smells like crushed gardenias. Sad memories crowd into my head, and for a moment, I can't move. I struggle to drive the shifty impressions back into my mind. Can't let a single remembrance through, no matter how precious. Hyperkinetic Memory Syndrome-- a one-line diagnosis defines me. I have a gift wrapped in a curse; detailed memories so life-like, I mistake them for reality. Biting the inside of my lip, I quickly search the room for a distraction, grounding me in the moment. When my fingers dust the duffle bag I remember where I am and why I'm here.' That is the flavor of writing that pervades this book addressed to the 9 to 18 years audience, but is a completely successful book no matter the age group.

In Phylis' synopsis of her story she writes, `Julian James returns to his hometown of Natchitoches, Louisiana with an urn under his arm--and a heart full of regrets. Around every corner are haunting memories, one in particular: As a teenager, Julian's worst nightmare comes true when his father supposedly commits suicide. But he never believes the stories swirling about his father and soon discovers a hidden diary with three coded messages. Sara, a clever new friend, helps him decode the first message, and his fears are confirmed. His father's death was no accident. Julian digs deeper, investigating clues overlooked by the local authorities. But the closer he gets to solving his father's mysterious death, the more dangerous the game becomes--risking not only his life, but Sara's, too.'

Not only is SKINNY DIPPPING IN CANE RIVER a fine mystery, but it is also an excellent probing in to the aspects of Hyperkinetic Memory Syndrome that few authors have dared to include in their stories. It is this kind of intellectual stimulation along with the rhapsodic description of Louisiana and the unique characters she has created that make this a most impressive debut novel. It would seem the author's career has significant promise. Keep an eye on her work. Grady Harp, September 15

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.