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A Salty Piece of Land    by Jimmy Buffet order for
Salty Piece of Land
by Jimmy Buffet
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2004 (2004)
Hardcover, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This novel by singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffet, who also wrote Tales from Margaritaville, opens on the breezy musings of cowboy Tully Mars ('just a good guy with a few bad habits'). He tells us that he fled the position of Wyoming poodle-ranch foreman (and his vindictive ex-boss's false accusations) to become a tropical expat, and now works for 101-year-old Cleopatra Highbourne ('professor of living long and wise') restoring the 150-year-old Cayo Loco lighthouse. Tully keeps on musing through the book, revealing the adventures that led him to Cayo Loco.

It's a wild and wacky fantasy, whose hero seems like a slick version of Voltaire's Candide crossed with Joe of Joe Versus the Volcano. Tully Mars runs from the law and from villainous bounty hunters (with the unlikely names of Waldo and Wilton Stilton), careening from one exotic Caribbean mishap to another, with a little help from all kinds of quirky characters (with celebrity names like 'Captain Kirk' and 'Clark Gable') who befriend him. Tully is also counseled from beyond the grave by his father's old friend, Indian shaman Johnny Red Dust, who gave him a special conch shell. Tully drifts through life on horseback, by shrimp-boat and schooner, bouncing from one serendipitous encounter to another.

The novel's cast of characters all inter-relate, exemplifying the six degrees of separation theory. They include Tully's pony Mr. Twain, Mayan medicine man Ix-Nay, Bucky Norman who owns the Lost Boys Fishing Lodge, 'Country Music Entertainer of the Year' Tex Sex, Sammy Raye Coconuts of the 'Midas touch' and Pinkland, and ex-commando Archie Mercer. In addition to our hero's own absurd adventures, readers get to share letters sent to him by Willie Singer, whom Tully has dispatched on a quixotic quest to find a Fresnel lens, needed to restore Cleopatra's lighthouse. The story culminates in a 'lighthouse-junkies' celebration at the turn of the century, a fitting ending to Cleopatra's saga, and a new beginning for Tully.

Though at times I found myself impatient with its meandering style, I enjoyed A Salty Piece of Land - it's an engaging flight of imagination, as light, colorful, and as easily ingested as a tropical rum cocktail. As a bonus, a wonderful CD, whose lyrics celebrate 'where the song of the ocean meets a salty piece of land', comes with the novel.

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