A Journalist's Archive

A Salty Piece of Land
Jimmy Buffett
Reviewed by Kathy Hare

           There’s a perfect way to “escape” to the tropics even if you don’t have time for a vacation or don't want to spend a lot of money on a plane ticket.  Read "A Salty Piece of Land," by the man who invented Margaretville. 

          Jimmy Buffett's writing style goes down as smooth as a cool drink on a hot summer day, but watch out because after the first few chapters his philosophy on life seeps into your pores, which could make you chuck-it-all and head for paradise instead of working for the taxman.         

          "A Salty Piece of Land" begins in an unlikely location - Wyoming.  Tully Mars, a cowboy who surrounds his trailer with pink plastic flamingoes, describes his childhood heroes.  As a kid, he wanted to be a "good guy" like Roy Rogers.  But as a teenager he became enamored with Butch Cassidy, who thumbed his nose at authority.  By the time he reached adulthood, Mars discovered he wanted to be his own man - "just a good guy with a few bad habits."

          Buffett teases readers by giving away small parts of the story in the beginning of the book, and then he uses flash-back sequences to fill in the details.

          Tully is happy living on the ranch where he was raised until a Californian named Thelma Barston moves in and wrecks everything.  Barston, a nasty woman with extensive political connections, buys the property and converts it into a poodle-breeding ranch.

No self-respecting cowboy can tolerate that, so Mars packs up his art collection, (consisting of two pictures), a lucky conch shell, his horse named Mr. Twain, and heads for the tropics.

Unfortunately, his temper gets the better of him before he makes his escape, causing him to throw a massage table through a plate glass window in Barston’s house. 

          Out for revenge, Barston sics two incompetent bounty hunters on Mars, and they turn up at inconvenient points throughout the adventure.  Mars’ attempts to stay a step ahead of them adds suspense to the novel, but it’s Buffett’s descriptive narrative of exotic stops in Belize, Cuba, Key West, and the Bahamas that makes you want to pack your bags.    

Buffett sets the mood by placing Mars at a Mexican fishing resort called the “Lost Boys,” complete with a tree house and plenty of space for Mars to take Mr. Twain for long rides on the beach. But a cloud descends on paradise when Donna Kay, an old girlfriend, shows up and announces she is getting married.

 Mars comforts himself with a side-trip to Tulum for a night of drinking and rabble rousing.  Here fate throws him into the path of Cleopatra Highbourne, the 101 year-old captain of a beautiful schooner, the Lucretia.

Highbourne takes Mars for a sail on the Lucretia, introduces him to Cuban baseball, and enlists him in her quest to restore a 150 year-old lighthouse on Cayo Loco, a tropical island in the Bahamas. 

A sub-plot involving the search for an original Fresnel lens, whose light Highbourne claims is far superior to any modern electric lamp, sends readers on a whirlwind tour across the Pacific in an old Pan Am Clipper.

Highbourne is only one of many colorful characters Buffett crams into this novel.  There’s Captain Kirk, owner of a shrimp boat, Johnny Red Dust and Ix-Nay, who are both shamans,  and Tex-Sex, a country music singer, to name a few. Oh yes, and what beach book would be complete without a couple of “bad-girls" on spring-break?  Not one written by Buffett, that’s for sure!

Yet by the end of the book Mars, aka Buffett, grows up – but he does it on his own terms while never having to leave paradise.  This novel is introspective, funny, addictive, and down-right enjoyable.  Escape to “A Salty Piece of Land.”

First published in The New Falcon Herald
Article Copyright © 2007 Bluestack Consulting, Inc.
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