I recently read a novel about a scrappy medical school graduate who solves a crime linked to her own violent past. The title of the book is Toro, and the character's name is Allie Parsons. For the sake of transparency, let me disclose that my brother, Frank Schwalbe, wrote this book, but neither because of nor despite this relationship, Allie Parsons won my heart.
Allie is a former stripper and drug addict who survived a violent attack from a bull-like predator named Toro, but lost a child and an eye. This event forced a reckoning through which she found a faith in God and a passion for medicine. When the book begins, Allie has won a prize pathology residency in a Tampa morgue and is looking forward to a better life with her daughter, Chrystal. But strange episodes both inside and outside the morgue soon threaten the order and normalcy Allie has struggled to establish. Chock-full of memorable characters, including sidekick Andrew Wong and the steadfast Pastor Virgil, Toro establishes Tampa, Florida, as a setting of mugginess, medicine, and mindfulness in the face of pure evil.
It is this mindfulness where Frank's book shines. He told me he wrote this story for the nurses he works alongside every day. Many are single mothers, and their determination and sheer energy to keep going in the face of incredible odds inspire him. The character of Allie Parsons demonstrates this single-minded, eyes on the prize determination. Never give up, our mother taught us, and Allie never does. Toro took her eye, and when she cries, which is seldom, there's only one stream of tears~a poignant trait I can't seem to forget. The source of Allie's strength is her faith in God, a subtle plot in the book which accurately reflects how religion in old Florida is as silently a part of you as your own eye.
Mom constantly encouraged Frank and me never to give up. Sadly, one of the lessons I've learned as an adult is that sometimes it's okay, even advisable, to quit. Our mother never agreed with this realization, and she would have wholeheartedly loved the character of Allie Parsons for her indomitable spirit. She would have been very proud of her son for writing such a good book which teaches a valuable lesson for those wise enough to perceive it.
April 1, 2015