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The Five Places that Created the Backdrop of Sybelia Drive

by Karin Cecile Davidson

The five places that created the backdrop of Sybelia Drive:

  1. Anna Clara, the fictional small lake town in 1960s/70s central Florida, in which most of the story takes place. Quiet, mostly working class and military families, conservative with a good dousing of progressive attitudes, thanks to the liberal arts college at the edge of town.
  2. Lake Sybelia, the central point around which the Anna Clara community of Sybelia Drive spins. Not too small, not too large, connected to other lakes in the area by way of a chain of canals. Canoes and small motorboats crisscross its surface, and egrets and herons roost in its cypress trees. A floating dock marks the swimming area closest to the Blackwood’s home, a place where mostly neighborhood children gather on warm afternoons. Again and again, lone swimmers, mostly women, enter the lake by night, no matter the chance of meeting alligators or garfish.
  3. West Palm Beach, the swanky nightclub metropolis where military widows seek their fortune. Beachside cottages, Sinatra tunes drifting from their windows, are embellished with modern Murano chandeliers and beaded curtains that rain down percussion every time they’re parted. Bikinis, bright red, smolder on the sand, and lines of pelicans glide overhead.
  4. Mount Rainier, emerging from white clouds, a distant dream rising above the rows of military housing in Washington State. Martinis offered before dinner, silent walks in the evening, stockings and high heels at the foot of the bed. Daughters are sent to their grandmothers in Florida, war threads through the afternoons, and U.S. Air Force Captains make love to their wives before crossing the Pacific to Vietnam.
  5. Vietnam. Quang Ngai Province. Vinh An, a village at the mouth of Song Tra Bong. USMC, Combined Action Patrol, I Corps, TAOR, Tango, Tiger Papa, one thousand klicks from home.  The days sweltering, leaning into each other like unbathed bodies. Sunk inside a bunker, sleeping pallets, men slung over them, and the heavy odors of breath and mildew. In July 1969, astronauts landed on the moon, while every day men landed and walked the DMZ without the benefit of zero gravity.

In the small lake town in Florida where LuLu, Rainey, and Saul are growing up, life is complicated by war, longing, and the sharp pain of conditional love. Coming of age while coming to terms with their detached parents, unrealized dreams, and the backdrop of the war in Vietnam, the threesome push past childhood into their teenage years with the shared baggage of a generation—one that is caught up in the lingering innocence of a private world until outside events cast that world in a different light, and the three measure their days by measuring each other: whether in wit, complicity, or hurtfulness. In the years that they are together, men walk on the moon, students are shot at Kent State, and of their three military fathers, only one returns from Vietnam.

An extraordinary debut novel, Sybelia Drive is a story told through layered, kaleidoscopic images and unforgettable language.

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Karin Cecile Davidson is originally from the Gulf Coast. Her stories have appeared in Story MagazineThe Massachusetts ReviewFive PointsColorado ReviewThe Los Angeles ReviewPassages North, and elsewhere. Her awards include a 2018 Ohio Arts Council Residency at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, a 2018 Atlantic Center for the Arts Residency, a 2015 Studios of Key West Artist Residency, a 2014 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, a 2012 Orlando Prize for Short Fiction, the 2012 Waasmode Short Fiction Prize, and a 2012 Peter Taylor Fellowship. Her fiction has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net, as well as shortlisted for the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers, the Nelligan Prize, the Red Hen Press Women’s Prose Prize, and the Faulkner-Wisdom Writing Competition, among others. She has an MFA from Lesley University and is an Interviews Editor for Newfound Journal. Her writing can be found at karinceciledavidson.com.

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