Florida Man

Thank you to Random House Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of Tom Cooper’s novel Florida Man, in exchange for an honest review.

Spanning several decades, Florida Man is the story Reed Crowe and Henry Yahchilane, who form an unlikely friendship while living on a small island. Struggling from the loss of his child, affectionately nicknamed Otter, Crowe finds himself divorced and the proprietor of a struggling roadside attraction. Yahchilane, a Seminole native, and the older of the two men is a mystery. He is quiet with a tough exterior and rumors fly regarding his criminal inclinations. A skeleton and a sink hole bring Crowe and Yahchilane together, sealing their connection and changing the course of their lives.

Florida Man is a quirky and delightful ride. I read it over two separate trips to central Florida during the summer of 2020, which included an airboat swamp tour, putting me in the mood. The twists in Florida Man are impossible to anticipate, but even more impossible to predict was the emotional impact of the story. I was sobbing while reading the last chapters. I was caught off-guard by how much I grew to care about both Crowe and Yahchilane and even more, how much I related to them. On the surface, it would seem that I shouldn’t be able to relate to these men; I am a forty-three year old white woman living in the suburbs, yet I definitely connected with Crowe and Yahchilane’s lone-wolf, living their lives by their own terms attitude.

I understood how they felt connected to their island, Crowe even refusing to leave it to be with his ex-wife Heidi. Crowe has relationships with other women, but he will always love Heidi. When their daughter dies, Crowe becomes planted on the island, as Heidi leaves to travel the world, dealing with their grief in separate ways.

The first two-thirds of the story are primarily a tension-filled, roller coaster ride. When Crowe becomes involved with helping a Cuban refugee family, he discovers that his childhood friend is a pedophile, putting a young girl from the family he is helping, in danger. Crowe struggles with figuring out the best way to deal with his former friend, a man who shows no signs of remorse.

Crowe’s life is in danger, when an old enemy comes back to haunt him. Hector Morales, nicknamed “Catface” for his disfiguring scars, was left in the swamp when many years earlier, Crowe found his body near a plane crash. Crowe thought he was dead and left Morales, but not before taking a fortune’s worth of marijuana from the downed plane. Morales survived and never forgot Crowe’s face, vowing to track him down.

Morales is a first-rate villain, reminding me of the character Anton Chigurh from Cormac McCarthy’s novel, No Country for Old Men. Similar to Chigurh, Morales is terrifying due to his calm demeanor and unpredictable violence. We stay with Morales as he is on the hunt for Crowe and watch as he interacts with many side characters while on his mission. The reader never knows if Morales will brutally kill someone that crosses his path or simply wish him a good day. The tension is high.

Florida, with its sandy beaches, muggy weather, and thick swamps is a character in Florida Man. Beyond Cooper’s novel, the term “Florida Man” is often used to describe dumb criminals and drug addicts who make the news in the sunshine state for a variety of outrageous antics. Florida is often mocked and taken less seriously than other states. I’m a Los Angeles native, and we are also often dismissed as “La La Land” or a place where “Fake” people live. In some ways, Crowe and Yahchilane embrace their “Florida Man” reputations, but in just as many ways, they defy it. They are simply ordinary men who love their land. I relate. I often bristle when I hear Los Angeles stereotypes. I can see the nuggets of truth in the stereotypes, but I also see so much more that only someone who loves their city, loves their state, can truly understand. Yahchilane and Crowe are insiders and their Florida is different from the Florida people mock. Their version of a “Florida Man” has much more depth than haters could ever realize.

Cooper’s Florida Man is a wild ride and some of the most beautiful, affecting writing that I have ever read. It’s truly a unique literary experience that I highly recommend.

Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg: One Comedian’s Tour of Not-Quite-the-Biggest-Cities in the World

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Thank You to Gallery Books for providing me with an advanced copy of Todd Barry’s, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg: One Comedian’s Tour of Not-Quite-The-Biggest Cities in the World, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Comedian Todd Barry shares travel notes from his experiences playing secondary markets ( smaller cities/venues), during 2015/2016.

LIKE– Previous to reading, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg, I had not heard of Todd Barry. I requested a review copy of his book, because I liked the concept. I like off-the-beaten-path travel logs. I was a clueless about his sense of humor, so I went in with no expectations. I read, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg, last night, during my flight from California to Oregon. Would Barry be my ideal travel companion?

Yes. Todd Barry made my two hour flight seem like seconds.

It was a risk going in without a familiarity with Barry’s comedy, but I quickly discovered that we have a similar sense of humor. Barry’s quirks and annoyances, like his self-diagnosed Misophonia, had me laughing. As I was currently dealing with air travel, I commiserated with his travel issues, such as a woman trying to guilt him into giving up his aisle seat. The nerve! I enjoyed his behind the scenes perspective of being a traveling comedian, the pains and joys of being on the road. What I most loved about his travel diary, was his recommendations. Hell yes, I’m going to visit the “railroad car/ future home of a corn dog restaurant” in Oklahoma. Cape Fear Serpentarium in North Carolina, I’m coming! Barry’s love of local coffee houses and sightseeing is right up my alley.

Barry’s witty observations reminded me of one of my favorite authors, David Sedaris, who always makes me laugh until I cry, when he reads from his travel diary during his live shows. The funniest stuff comes from observing other people, things too bizarre to make up.

DISLIKE– Not so much a dislike, but a suggestion; although, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg, is a quick read, don’t do it in one sitting. If I had parsed it out, I would have found it more enjoyable. I felt like I rushed it. Don’t rush Barry, he deserves better.

RECOMMEND– Yes. I’m sure his fans will be delighted, but even as someone with zero familiarity with Barry, I found, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg, to be a highly entertaining read.