Centerville author Patry Francis talks about her Cape Cod characters in “The Orphans of Race Point.”By Katie Lofblad
Set in the tight-knit Portuguese community of Provincetown, The Orphans of Race Point follows the lives of Hallie Costa and Gus Silva as they navigate adolescence, romance and tragedy.
When Gus Silva’s mother is murdered at the hands of her own husband, 9-year-old Gus refuses to speak until Hallie’s father pulls him out of depression. Hallie, also 9, is a force to be reckoned with—Francis has painted a strong female lead that is rare in today’s culture. Hallie is the hero of the novel and works as the glue that bonds the rest of the characters together.
In a tale jam-packed with love, betrayal, family and a sense of community that runs bone-deep, The Orphans of Race Point is a modern classic. Having lived in Centerville for 27 years, Francis understands the lasting effects of life on Cape Cod.
While most tourists identify with Provincetown’s lively art culture and gay community, Francis pays tribute to the year-rounders, or the “forgotten population.” The strong, familial community in Provincetown is a major theme in Orphans.
“The Portuguese community, they are just so close,” says Francis. “It was just like everyone was family and I really got the sense that that was true. I really wanted to pay tribute to that because it’s just so rare now, to have such a tight community.”
Francis admits that the Cape is as much of a character in the novel as Hallie and Gus are. “[Provincetown] is so formative for them,” says Francis “I think that the relationship with the place where you live and with nature is so essential—that sense of connectedness.”
While Francis says that the book is fictional, the author discloses that it is nearly impossible to keep subconscious influences at bay. Her own grandfather may have inspired the strong bond between Hallie and her father, Nick, in the book.
“You think, ‘Well I am just totally making this up,’ but you realize that everything that’s happened to you does end up coming into the book one way or another,” says Francis.
The author also drew upon her own experiences on Cape Cod. Coincidentally, after she had started writing Orphans, her daughter rented a condo in Provincetown almost exactly where the fictional Hallie and Nick lived. Sitting on the condo’s deck overlooking the bay allowed Francis to provide the rich details that make Orphans feel so tangible. From the condo in Provincetown, Francis saw the community’s true spirit through all four seasons as if she was seeing the world through Hallie’s perspective.
Her own relationship with the ocean was also something she drew upon. “The ocean is such a part of your life when you live on the Cape,” says Francis. “It is the first place I will go when something is bothering me.”
From working at homeless shelters and prisons, Francis was able to accurately write about domestic abuse and violence. Stories from other people provided her with the tools necessary to write in a way that paid justice to the struggles faced by the fictional characters. “Fiction tells the truth in a way that fact can’t,” says Francis. “Fiction is truer than fact in a lot of ways because you’re just going from the gut and from insight.”
Reminiscent of Harper Lee’s classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, Francis’ Orphans should not be missed. The pages come to life with tear-jerking tragedy, tangible bonds between characters, and spiritual insight well beyond the years of her protagonists. Francis takes you on a literary journey filled with twists and turns until each character ultimately is able to find meaning in his or her own life.