Land schemes, political corruption, bad-old-boy networks, barbarous yahoos, and a man on a mission to secure his patrimony and his father's dreams: they’re all fine grist for the storyteller's mill, and Covington (Cleaving, 1999, etc.) makes the most of it.
In a moment of temporary insanity, the author’s father responded in 1965 to an invitation for “a few select men of outstanding character,” offering “exciting news about a 44,800-acre development in Florida called River Ranch Acres.” It was perhaps the archetypal land scam, and Covington senior plunked down his dwindling dollars on two and a half acres, sight unseen, for “raw land, traditionally the private reserve of the gentry,” a gesture at independence and the future. Years later, when Covington the younger tries to stake claim to his inheritance, he learns the whole of River Ranch Acres has been illegally taken over by a hunt club. Not some tony bunch, either, but a collection of vicious no-goods and squatters who protect their ill-gotten reserve by means of threat, force, and the compliance of the sheriff’s office. Dennis is a bit of a ne’er-do-well himself, so the dark, inexorable dance between him and the club has a grim quality from which it is hard to pry your eyes as he recklessly, righteously pursues his father’s folly. He belatedly decides that the quest for a patch of one’s own might be less mortally realized out in Idaho and slips into his father’s metaphorical clothes by obtaining some remote acreage. Bankruptcy renders these properties worthless in the eyes of the court and the bank, but in both instances Covington has realized a tenuous hold to the earth that gives him compass. Boy, did he ever need it.
As the author admits, it was “a crazy idea that any inheritance might be worth claiming, no matter how small, no matter the cost.” Thanks should be given that he stayed alive to tell this strange, headstrong tale.