IN THE LAND OF GOOD LIVING
A Journey to the Heart of Florida
A picaresque, amiable ramble through arguably the weirdest state in the country.
“You gotta understand,” writes essayist Russell. “Florida exists in the future continuous sense. Florida will be a personal paradise, yours to own as soon as we fill in this hellish bog.” It’s a conditional place, too, its survival contingent on the mercy of the rising sea. The author teamed up with a tough-willed Marine veteran and another buddy to wander through the entire Sunshine State, inspired by the politician Lawton Chiles, who, as an unknown candidate, walked most of the peninsula in order to introduce himself to voters. Their adventures lean toward both the madcap and the mundane. On the former front, for instance, Russell chronicles how they were intercepted by a heavily armed, apparently heavily drugged woman whose suspicion was aroused by their shopping cart, laden with cameras for a documentary they were making about “the peninsula that stupefies, sickens, infuriates, and finally embarrasses the rest of the nation.” Satisfied that their intentions weren’t nefarious, she gamely noted, “You can lick me up and down if you want. I’ve been in the ocean.” Russell politely declined. They also wandered into nests of Trump supporters to find that he’s admired because he “eats KFC on his plane,” just like a regular Joe. The political analysis seldom goes deeper, and the narrative is often superficial, a kind of gee-whiz take on a place that, as journalist and Florida native Craig Pittman has written, exceeds every other place in strangeness. And why should that be? Russell doesn’t deep-dive, borrowing instead from T.D. Allman, another journalist, to note that people who come to Florida have tended to want to re-create the societies and places they’ve left behind, if with a slightly hallucinatory quality—which seems just right.
Fans of Harry Crews and Carl Hiaasen will enjoy Russell’s entertaining, if lightweight, yarn.