by Jimmy Buffett
Publication Date: June 11, 1989
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
The singer/songwriter displays his gift for creating witty, laid-back Southern stories in a collection of bizarre tales and thoughtful essays
The cure for what ails a homesick Florida Cracker. These stories age perfectly (especially since a lot of them take place in the 60’s anyway) and never seem to lose their charm.
My original review below, with any additional thoughts from this read in … green.
I bought a paperback copy of this book around the time it came out in the early 90’s. and I fell in love with the stories. I’ve been re-reading it over the years whenever I felt homesick or nostalgic, because truly these stories capture a flavour of the south, and Florida in particular, that is hard to find in the present day. Snake Bite Key (the setting for a lot of the stories, or the characters’ backgrounds) could just have easily been in South Florida in the 70’s as it is a fictional island in Alabama. I’ll also add here that while the stories and the characters are fictional, the characters’ personalities exist in people all over the South, for good or ill.
I recently upgraded my poor old softcover copy to a lovely hardback I found when I was on vacation, and I just had to sit down and re-read it. Funny how certain things stick out once your perspective changes: I never paid much attention to Buffett’s references to Australia and Australian Aboriginal myths until I was living in Oz myself; suddenly these references have more relevance for me. But otherwise, the stories hold up – they aren’t all gems and I love some more than others.
My personal favourites – and they remain my favourites to this day:
Off to See the Lizard: I hate American football, but you can’t grow up in the South without an intimate knowledge of just how much of a religion it is – especially high school and college football. This story folds that fervour into an entertaining story about the ultimate David and Goliath match.
Boomerang Love – this is my all-time favourite of the stories in this book.: This is still true, even though it’s a flat out romance. But it’s not really the romance that pulls me in, but the main character’s return home in the face of a hurricane; take the romance out of the equation and there’s just so much in this story I identify with.
The Swamp Creature Let One In: Another one I shouldn’t care a fig about, because it’s about golf, but it’s just soooo good. A snake-handling preacher turned swamp creature who curses the sixteenth hole. It makes me smile all the way through, even though it’s ridiculous and outrageous. It also reminds me of home (where we had our own swamp legends).
Good but not great:
Take Another Road: Ok, this one gets better as I re-read it. It’s still not my favourite, but there are parts that appeal to me more and more. Tully’s luck as he travels from Montana down to Alabama is sadly unrealistic, but it’s nice to imagine that a string of good luck sometimes happens.
I Wish Lunch Could Last Forever: This is actually a really good story, but it’s a melancholy story that has a perhaps realistic ending, but not a satisfying one.
The Pascagoula Run: Not as ‘meh’ or as tedious as I originally found it, but it’s definitely got a juvenile edge to it. I remember days exactly like the one in this story, and how it felt to have to forge on the next day to face your commitments. I remember thinking at the time it was all part of the wild ride of youth; now I just think about the mind numbing fatigue.
These are apparently semi-autobiographical:
You Can’t Take it With You: I wasn’t ever really sure there was much point to this one. I still don’t.
Are You Ready for Freddy?: Tedious to the extreme. Freddy likes to hear his own voice. Ok, this one didn’t strike me as tedious this time around. Perhaps the difference this time is that since I read this last I’ve made the trip down the A1A/Overseas Highway to Key West, and a lot of the landmarks are still there, so I felt a more visceral connection to the trip Jimmy and Freddy make on their way to Key West. Freddy’s stories still didn’t delight me, but I liked the rest better than I previously had.
Hooked in the Heart – this one couldn’t have been great – I can’t remember it!! Now, this is wrong – I mean, I still can’t remember the story by looking at the title, but the story itself is memorable (an example, I think, of a bad title). This is the story about Jimmy Buffett meeting the Cuban fisherman who inspired the ‘old man’ in Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. It’s a funny but touching story, and I thought Buffett wrote a compelling portrait of the man in just a few words.
Life in the Food Chain – Very good. I’d probably downgrade this one to ‘good’. It’s a laid back story about sailing – more an anecdote, really.
A Gift for the Buccaneer – I really liked this one. I love this one – Savannah gets extra points for her reply; it elevates an interesting story into an entertaining one.
Sometimes I Feel Like a Rudderless Child – also thought this one was interesting, although it ended oddly. I still think it ends a bit oddly, but this story – also a sailing one – is a notch above Life in the Food Chain. It’s a complete story with drama and resolution, not merely an anecdote.
An oddball collection of stories, but most of them take me back home and leave me smiling when I’m finished; I’m not sure I can ask much more than that from Mr. Buffett.