Vicki Riley and Linda Cabrera are both Conchs, a rarity in our transient community.

Riley’s literary interests gravitate to the human, its struggle, and her love affair with Key West. To quote her, “Much of what I write embeds a tribute to the past and hope for the future. Minority or women’s struggles ride the arcs of my stories. My characters reflect the eclectic array of edgy, unconventional, spirited individuals on the island. Stories collected in [‘Cayo Hueso’] are dedicated to them and to all who gather sand in their shoes.”

Linda Cabrera is an oil and acrylic painter. Her work is a detailed combination of realism and folk art that brings to life the laid back and colorful Key West island lifestyle in which she was raised. She strives to add energy to her paintings by including people and wildlife that are part of her Conch heritage, portraying not only the Key West she remembers as a child but the Key West as it currently exists. Her paintings are not just people and places but are memories of the simpler times and places that made her into the person she is today.

“Cayo Hueso” combines Cabera’s paintings with Riley’s prose and poetry, and packages both beautifully. Most of the book is a series of short stories covering a wide variety of topics. In “Right of Passage,” a young girl befriends an unhappy neighbor who ultimately haunts the girl’s life. “Da Nada” deals with a high school first love that continues to weigh on a man into adulthood and after his divorce. “Memory as Muse” takes the reader on the author’s nostalgic return to a previous historic home. In “Split Rhythm,” she explores the ending of a perfect marriage. “Lesson Plan” broaches an artist’s financial difficulties as retirement approaches and her decision to sell furniture and rent rooms to supplement her living expenses. “Reaching Through Layers” deals with a woman’s struggling with grief in self-destructive ways in the aftermath of her mother’s death and how she ultimately finds her way to a healthier path. “Mitzi: A Whimsical Tale” is a dog’s story being told by a dog. In “Flight,” a woman pilot realizes love too late as her plane goes down in the ocean. “The Red Doors” introduces a wife who is trying to hold on to both her beloved Key West and her marriage to an alcoholic drug user while still pursuing her dream of attaining a higher education. In “Teachings,” a high school girl struggles with her religious and moral beliefs about same sex relationships. A female boater snorkels with a visiting family member and feels betrayed by his need to destroy what she protects and honors in “The Kill.” Finally, a man struggles with the ideals of his youth as he faces life after 50 in “Intermediary.”

There should be something in here that strikes a chord with those of us who have struggled with similar issues. I’ll conclude this review with a quote from Vicki Riley: “Every generation should tell its story with artifacts. Artful words and images are the bones we leave behind.”

Reviewed by David Beckwith, author of ‘A Demonic Conspiracy.’

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