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A Salty Piece of Land
By Jimmy Buffett
Little, Brown, 2004
Hardcover, $27.95 (460 pages)
ISBN: 0-316-90845-2
 
 
 

Jimmy Buffett rolls through this whopping novel about the wild and woolly adventures of a cowboy sailor named Tully Mars, who runs away from trouble in Heartache, Wyoming, and travels to the town of Heat Wave on the Gulf coast of Alabama, where he meets Captain Kirk, the owner of a shrimp boat who agrees to take Tully and his horse, Mr. Twain, down into the Caribbean. 

Like Buffett’s best songs, A Salty Piece of Land is a storyteller’s dream. It rocks and it rolls through character after character. Being followed by the ghost of Johnny Red Dust, who rekindled in Tully the magic that his father had taught him to believe in, the cowboy sailor follows his philosophy: “Lower your latitude to change your attitude.” 

All of Buffett’s characters have been sprinkled by the magic dust. They not only live, they sail through the pages to a stretch of beach on the Yucatan peninsula called Punta Margarita and on to a salty piece of land called Cayo Loco where he is given the task of finding the ancient bulb to reinvigorate the old lighthouse. But whoa here, I’m getting ahead of the tale. 

First comes the fabulous character of Willie Singer, who is more than slightly reminiscent of another Willie, who is a laid back singer and a dreamer of good dreams, a pilot and a seeker of truth. Then there’s Bucky Norman, who has come south to the pirate outpost of Punta Margarita to open Lost Boys Fishing Lodge where rich fishermen hunt for schools of bonefish. If you remember your Peter Pan, you’ll catch the significance. Then there’s Ix-Nay, the Mayan fishing guide who works for Bucky. And there’s Tex Sex, the former country music star who retired early and then made a major comeback, all the while searching for an island in the sun.  But perhaps the most delightful of his huge menagerie of characters is Cleopatra Highbourne, a 101-year-old captain of a 142-foot schooner named Lucretia. 

“If meeting Cleopatra Highbourne for the first time that afternoon on the beach at Tulum was the beginning of an odyssey to the distant shore of Cayo Loco, then the boat that she commanded was the barb at the end of her hook that reeled me on board,” Tully tells us. And like the lady, who was born in a barber shop in Havana on the eve of the Spanish-American War, the reader is never bored with a Buffett narrative. His storytelling expertise ebbs and flows like the sea across which the Lucretia sails. 

From an evening of gossip at the Fat Iguana bar to a wild spring-break party in San Pedro, Tully follows the advice of the old philosopher, Johnny Red Dust: “Leap, and the net will appear.” A Salty Piece of Land is that kind of book. The author draws a wonderful protagonist in the first words:  

“It all simply comes down to good guys and bad guys. As a kid, I wanted to be like Roy Rogers, the good-guy cowboy of all time. Roy and his horse, Trigger, would go riding through the movies, helping those in peril while never seeming to seat, get a scratch, or wrinkle a pair of perfectly creased blue jeans. When the day was over, they would join the Sons of Pioneers by the campfire and sing the sun to sleep. Now that is what I called the perfect job.” 

Then, as a teenager, he discovers a new role model in Butch Cassidy. “He made mistakes, and that seemed more in tune with the way my life was working out in the real world. He thumbed his nose at authority. To put it in today’s terms, Butch Cassidy didn’t work for The Man. He was his own man. He ran away to Patagonia.” 

That’s what I call a whale of a beginning. And it moves out from there. The lighthouse takes on more and more meaning, and Tully does his job while overcoming a mountain of adversity, a few high seas and mast-ripping winds. On his way to smooth sailing, it is one truly worthwhile story in which the reader wishes for more and more fun-filled pages.

 

Wayne Greenhaw
Southern Scribe Reviews

 

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