The Prodigal by Michael Hurley

With a prologue that can stand alone as a striking, atmospheric short story on its own, The Prodigal is an eloquently written debut novel of island life. Overall, the story and writing style are enchanting, and the characters are all wonderfully drawn and mostly relatable and likable. As the title implies, the book is an allegory of the prodigal son story, though The Prodigal is a ship, so the reference is not entirely perfect, but this does not detract from the story at all.

Adrian Sharpe is a lawyer—and a very good one—who has charmed his way to the top with his clever and sneaky ways of getting out trouble. He and two of his coworkers take a vacation on the island of Ocracoke, where Adrian encounters a handful of unusual locals who leave him both confused and intrigued. After he returns home, he learns of a medical malpractice case that he had completely forgotten about and which starts that day. This scenario does not seem that realistic, but Hurley pulls it off excellently with his gorgeous writing style, gift for description, and a creation of a distinct tone and atmosphere. The section detailing the trial also is quite long, and though it is a very enjoyable read while reading it, after finishing that section, it seems like the amount of detail did not necessarily serve a purpose. However, upon further inspection, it becomes apparent that most every paragraph does at least something to further develop and reveal Adrian's character. He has both flaws and positive qualities, which make him a someone readers will want both to root for and to hope for personal growth and change.

After the trial and an unfortunate series of events, Adrian is offered the opportunity to return to Ocracoke Island. Each character there has their own personality and background that tie into the story nicely and influence that plot. On the island, Adrian seems to move into the backdrop of the plot as other, more interesting characters come forward—and Adrian also seems to stick out to the reader (but not to the characters) like a sore thumb on the island. The eclectic nature of the population of the island keeps the story engaging, even when it pushes the level of realism. Perhaps it is this edge-of-realistic atmosphere that contributes to the magic of the writing. Hurley has incredible skill in creating a mystical and mysterious tone, especially at the start of the book. The small town community atmosphere is also well-developed, especially in scenes that take place in the bar. A large portion of the book, in the final third, takes place on the boat, The Prodigal, as Adrian and his friends are racing against the main antagonist; once again, here, the descriptions of the setting and of the relationships between the characters are gorgeously wrought, but some of the events aren't entirely realistic. And, once again (again), Hurley pulls it off wonderfully with his romantic-sounding prose.

One thing that bothered me was the level of nudity in the book. I was in no way offended by it (though maybe conservative readers would be) but it did make me roll my eyes sometimes, when it seemed unnecessary. "Really? She's naked again? Why?" Sometimes it made sense, but it seemed that every other page had someone not wearing any clothing for little to no reason.

I would love to read more about the two lovers in the prologue, honestly, and I was disappointed that Hurley didn't fully flesh out their story. Overall, though, The Prodigal is a beautiful read. It is one I would feel compelled to recommend to romance fans and maybe historical fiction fans (even though it takes place in present day, it has a sort of historical fiction feel to it), albeit with a disclaimer about the nudity—but this shouldn't stop anyone from reading.