James Carlos Blake, author of Under the Skin does the cooking in the family. His wife, Ana, is a successful attorney, and his two sons, Sam and Jake, ages six and nine respectively, attend private schools, belong to the Cub Scouts, and own a rabbit named Pete. Highly regarded by friends and neighbors alike, they are certainly not the sort one expects to be targeted for violence.Yet, from the first line, Leavenworth hints at upheavals to come: “The night Gordo’s life spun out of control he made pasta. An unwitting last supper in the big old house on Batavia Boulevard.” Behind the faade of domesticity, menace rises like the tide surrounding Galveston, and events appear all the more ominous because they are beyond the understanding of the protagonists.At the beginning, a peaceful domestic scene is interrupted by an unthinkable act of violence: Gordo is bathing his sonsAna has gone to a board meetingwhen the doorbell rings. He opens the door. A stranger, whom he recognizes from one previous encounter, pulls a gun, shoots him, and vanishes, an act so incongruous, so incomprehensible he has difficulty believing he’s been shot. “I think I’ve been shot,” he tells police. Once Gordo’s incredulity gives way to the realization he and his family are at risk, they abandon their home. But over the next few months, as they move from one locale to another, danger stalks them. Leavenworth, who works as a special assistant to the president of the University of Texas, is the author of more than 500 articles and has written the text for Historic Galveston, a photographic collection. Isle of Misfortune, his first novel, is a psychological thriller in the classic style of Alfred Hitchcock. Like Hitchcock, Leavenworth focuses on the psychological reactions of a persecuted hero and punctuates scenes of domestic tranquility with dark humor. For example, at the same time Gordo struggles to stay alive, he is under pressure to meet a deadline on a story about funeral parlors. In addition to providing some comic relief, Leavenworth releases the rising tension with, for lack of a better term, sexual relief. \(It is impossible to ignore what is probably one of the most flaSuch moments are interspersed with more serious concerns. To create an atmosphere of foreboding, the author employs such familiar tactics as the mysterious telephone call, police incompetence, the unexpected visitor, a break-in, an um-eliable phone line, and characters who are other than what they seem. While some events are fairly predictable, they are no less eerie. And they are, for the most part, credible. In fact, the similarities between Leavenworth and Gordo go far beyond the fact that they both write about food, health, and travel articles with an accent on history. “I will always be grateful to the people who helped us, sometimes putting themselves at risk during the dark days that inspired this book,” the author writes in the preface to Isle of Misfortune. In 1994, while living in Galveston, he was the target of a man who tried to kill him. According to the jacket text, the attacker was never caught; Leavenworth never found out why his assailant had singled him out. His own experience inevitably explains the author’s uncanny insight into human behavior and his ability to portray the reactions of ordinarily rational human beings in the face of danger or what they perceive as danger. For example, Gordo, from whose point of view the story is told, is essentially a family maneasy going, mild-mannered, witty. In the course of the narrative he becomes jealous, self-doubting, suspicious and hypocritical. “He felt that some strange permutation of his character had emerged completely beyond his control as a result of what had happened.” Gordo holds himself responsible for having brought misfortune down on his family, and that, in turn, “Made him feel like a penitent husband, guilty of some transgression….” When Gordo is forced to evacuate his stately old home the theme of house and home figure prominently here Leavenworth describes how it had weathered the deadliest storm in Galveston’s history: …Captain McManus [the former owner] watched as his neighbor’s houses were swept down Batavia Boulevard like dinghies. With the wind howling, the captain chopped a hole through the floorboards with a double-bladed ax. Black water spewed upward through the fissure like a sea-water geyser. He knew the rising water would fill his home with bilge, making the house more stable on the tall brick piers of its foundation. Captain McManus used seawater to anchor his home. The captain kept his home, and by extension, his family, intactsomething Gordo believes he has failed to do. 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 6/20103
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