Published by Little, Brown and Company
Review by W. R. Greer
I've always enjoyed Jimmy Buffett's music, that mix of escapism, tropical delights, and a touch of self-indulgence and hedonism that brings an easy smile and whisks your mind away to a warm and sunny place. During the winter, I leave the bitter cold and deep snowpack at home for a jaunt to Mexico or the Caribbean for my own escape from reality. When I first read about Jimmy Buffett's new book, A Salty Piece of Land, I figured it was right up my alley. It turns out I was right. This novel was pure pleasure from beginning to end.
A Salty Piece of Land brings back the character of Tully Mars from Jimmy Buffett's previous novel, Tales from Margaritaville. Tully is a Wyoming cowboy on the lam. The ranch where he lives and works has been converted to a poodle ranch run by a universally hated woman by the name of Thelma Barston. After Tully throws a massage table through her plate glass window, she uses her political connections to trump up charges and have a warrant issued for his arrest. Tully takes his faithful steed, Mr. Twain, and decides he wants to see the ocean. With bounty hunters on his trail, this begins a series of adventures for him that will take him to the Alabama coast, Key West, Mexico, Belize, Cuba, and the Bahamas.
Tully is a kind soul, hard worker, and a quick learner. He befriends a shrimp boat captain named Captain Kirk who teaches him his first lessons about the ways of the sea and transports him and Mr. Twain to a remote part of the Yucatan peninsula called Punta Margarita. He also meets and begins a budding friendship with a musician/treasure hunter/pilot named Willie Singer. Tully lands a job as a fly-fishing guide at the Lost Boys fishing camp in Punta Margarita. It's run by a man named Bucky Norman who leases the land from the manager of a country western singer named Tex Sex. The other fly-fishing guide is a Mayan shaman, Ix-Nay. In the remote outpost of Punta Margarita, Tully feels like he can leave his past behind and try to figure out where his new life will lead him. On a trip to the Mayan ruins at Tulum, he's stranded when he totals a Jeep. While waking a from a ganja-induced dream on the beach there, he sees a beautiful schooner coming into the bay. Its captain is 101-year old Cleopatra Highbourne, and she's on a mission to find a fresnel lens for a lighthouse she wants to refurbish on the Bahamian island of Cayo Loco, the salty piece of land of the book's title. It's an endeavor that will eventually involve Tully and his friends, but first he must make a trip to Belize to find a Land Rover to replace the Jeep. A man on the run from the law with a fake passport and bounty hunters in pursuit must be careful. Which is how Tully ended up in the middle of a wild spring break party with a couple hot college girls.
That's a quick outline to the plot, although the plot is not that important. It serves as the vehicle to further the adventures of Tully and his new-found friends. Some of the chapters in this novel are letters from Willie Singer as he searches for a fresnel lens while island hopping his way across the south Pacific in a seaplane. Each adventure is just plain fun as Tully finds out what's important to his life, and that answer is invariably a sense of ethics, a lot of fun, and good friends you can count on anytime. It helps that a lot of these friends are very wealthy and can come to the rescue at the drop of a hat. Tully continues to find like-minded people, often making instant connections as if they share the same karma. Karma and mysticism play a recurring role in A Salty Piece of Land, from his father's friend and Indian medicine man, Johnny Red Dust, to Ix-Nay the Mayan shaman, to an odd religion on a forgotten South Sea island.
A Salty Piece of Land is a fun ride through Jimmy Buffett's idea of paradise, and you get the sense it's a place he's visited often. Many of his own loves, flying, sailing, and fishing, are featured prominently in the novel. It's a world where drink, ganja, and fun are pleasant additions if not done to excess. It's also a place where the dark forces of greed, corpocracy, and pollution threaten paradise. A disdain for tourists and resorts and an affection for indigenous people who've learned to live off the land runs strong through the novel. Even Cuban baseball, played for pride instead of greedy contracts, plays a role.
This is not a literary novel and A Salty Piece of Land has no pretensions that it is. There will undoubtedly be those readers put off by its lack of any real drama or suspense. At times it's predictable, but it's a comforting predictability at that. You know the good guys will win, the friends will be there in the time of need, and all surprises will eventually be pleasant ones. That doesn't distract from the enjoyment of the novel, but adds to it instead. Jimmy Buffett's prose easily transports the reader to the different settings in his paradise. I don't fish, I've never sailed a schooner across the Caribbean, or flown a plane. By the end of this novel, I wanted to do all three. Therein lies the charm of this book: its easy access to warmth and beauty of many types.
If you want a piece of escapist fiction that will bring a smile to your face and a longing for a trip to the tropics, then A Salty Piece of Land is the right prescription for what ails you. How can you go wrong with a book that includes a passage that uses fishing as a metaphor for life? Some books are just plain fun, and this is one of them. Enjoy your cheeseburger in paradise.
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