sunrise on docks

Southport, A Story of Second Chances

southport bookcoverSet in the historic Southport waterfront area of North Carolina, Southport is a journey through loss, betrayal and pain into redemption and second changes. It is the road to the kind of love that saves a life and to the joy that's still there even when all seems lost.

Published: Sep. 5, 2009

Words: 74,430

Language: English

ISBN: 9781458075987

By Gwen Fowler, The Sun News, 1997

Edward Norvell's "Southport" would make a great beach read even if the story didn't take place in Horry and Brunswick residences, but the familiar settings make it more fun for Grand Strand readers.

In "Southport, A Story of Second Chances," Todd Field hitches a ride to Southport, N.C., to escape his abusive father. Soon he gets a job working on a fishing boat for a captain and he moves in with the captain and his wife. They soon become like parents to him.

Over the next few years he falls in love for the first time and gets his heart broken. He falls in with a bad crowd and learns what matters in life. He discovers the beauty of the Brunswick County, N.C., coast, traveling the Cape Fear to Oak Island, N.C., and Bald Head, N.C.

In short, the book is a coming-of-age novel that follows Todd from 1975 until 1990 when he's captain of his own boat, married and the father of two.

It's obvious Norvell knows the area he's writing about, and that's because his family has owned property along the Grand Strand since the 1950s. His grandparents had a home near the old Ocean Forest Hotel, and his parents had one in the Ocean Drive section of North Myrtle Beach. Norvell spent most of his summers on the coast during the 1970s and 1980s.

His father owned a fishing boat, and Norvell listened to a lot of stories on the docks as a boy. He's incorporated a couple of them into "Southport."

In one such story, Todd and his best friend Mitch, were working on the shrimping boat near Key West, Fla., when a freighter crashes into the shrimp boat, cutting it in two. All on board except Todd and Mitch drown, and the boys spend two nights hanging on to the oat's hatch before they are rescued. That episode is based on a story Norvell heard as a boy on the docks of Palmetto Shores—now Harbourgate Marina—in the Cherry Grove section of North Myrtle Beach.

Another scene is based on the fishing trip Norvell and his father took. In the book, Todd takes a group shark-fishing on his charter boat, and a fighting shark takes a bite out of Todd's leg. In real life, Norvell and his father had a shark take a bite out of a boat chair.

Norvell based other parts of the story on his life. For example, Todd's first girlfriend, Elizabeth, is based on someone Norvell knew in college. But Norvell makes it clear that all of the book is not based on truth: "My father is not an abusive alcoholic," he said.

Norvell grew up in Salisbury, N.C., where he is an attorney. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and also attended Tulane University ad North Carolina State University. He has a master's degree in English and creative writing from the City University of New York and a law degree from Wake Forest University.

A turning point in his writing came after he attended a two-week writing program called Breadloaf at Middlebury College in Vermont in 1991. There, he was told to write every day.

So he began getting up at 5:30.m. each day to write for a couple of hours before work.

"That's the only way I could do it with a family," he said.

It took Norvell about three years to write "Southport." He previously wrote, "Shadows," which is based in part on his days at Tulane. The story takes place in Tulane and Myrtle Beach, and, like Southport, is about a man and his first love. He's now working on a third novel, which is set in the North Carolina mountains.

Throughout "Southport," a strong love for the coast and appreciation for its beauty comes through. And the subtitle is fitting, as Todd gets a second chance at building a new life for himself and in love.

In the early chapters of the book, the characters don't seem completely drawn and some of the dialogue seems a bit stilted. But after those first chapters, the characters are richer and their conversations ring truer.

With visits to North Myrtle Beach, Holden Beach, N.C., Shallotte, N.C., Bald Head Island and Southport, reading this book seems like taking a trip through familiar territory.

Gwen Fowler is deputy managing editor at The Sun News.

"Edward Norvell knows the area he's writing about, and that's because his family has owned property along the Grand Strand since the 1950s."