All This Belongs To Me by Ad Hudler
Reviewed by Debutante Kristy
Disclaimer: I know and like Ad Hudler. But I’m pretty sure he doesn’t spend much time online, so I feel confident that I could rip and shred and he’d never know. Thing is, it’s just not going to happen. All This Belongs To Me is beautifully written, well-plotted, and has one of the most endearing protagonists–Ellis Norton, a tour guide for the Edison Estate in Ft. Myers, Florida–in modern fiction.
Ellis is old, single, and set in his ways. He knows what his job is, he knows what he’ll eat each night, and he knows that little of consequence is going to happen to him. He is neither unduly grouchy, nor especially benevolent. No grandchildren clamber upon his knees, and no conniving widows vie for his attention. He is doing time the best way he knows how–by ushering tourists around Thomas and Mina Edison’s winter estate and trying to impart some of his own passion for the eccentric inventor. He’s supported in his endeavor by a community that treats the estate as casually as a country club by members of the old guard, Ft. Myers natives who’ve grown up on tales of their grandparents socializing with the Edisons.
But nothing stays the same forever, and Ellis is disconcerted to find that the long-time director of the estate has been let go, and a new boss is intent on making the Edison estate a world-class museum and historic site, to the delight of “new” prominent residents and the horror of “old” prominent denizens.
While poor Ellis is trying to acclimate to his newly upset world, Geena Pangborn, a woman grieving the loss of her teenaged son, is trying to escape hers. Finally driven away from her wealthy husband by her vindictive, controlling mother-in-law, Geena is on the run. Rather than allow the family to track her down with a paper trail, Geena eschews credit and ATM cards, takes a few hundred dollars and hits the road, accompanied only by SafeT Man–a rubber mock-man she buckles into the passenger seat to ward off trouble for a woman travelling alone–and a pervading sense of relief. When the money runs out she is forced to make a choice: use her own credit cards and be tracked down, or continue her flight with the credit card of some poor guy down in Ft. Myers, Florida named Ellis Norton, which she happens to come across when a mail truck upends on the highway. The Ellis card wins.
What follows is a mix of strange Southern history (is there any other kind?), mystical journey, pining love story, and satisfying character study. Ellis and Geena are complex, and their problems are too, but it’s the way they choose to untangle them that will make you love them. The writing is clean and devoid of melodrama while maintaining a surprising beauty throughout.
Writer’s Aside: Is it hard to write the opposite sex? There are a lot of arguments about this among writers. And I tend to be a bit snobby about it myself. I know it’s wrong, and there are plenty of examples that prove it, but I find it hard to forget as I’m reading when a man writes a woman, yet have little difficulty when a woman writes a man. It surprised me that I didn’t feel that way with this book. Perhaps it’s because I know Ad, and because I know that he has an amazing, strong, professionally successful wife, whom he supports in part by being a stay-at-home dad, vacuuming, doing all those things that I sometimes feel men don’t really understand that most women do. Maybe I think it lends more weight to his female characters. Or maybe he’s just a good writer. What do you think? Can women write men well? Can men write women well?