A cultural history of Key West as experienced by some of its most famous residents.
McKeen (Journalism/Boston Univ.; Outlaw Journalist: The Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson, 2008, etc.) transports readers to Key West, a wonderland of cigar rollers and beautiful women that for generations has maintained a reputation for lawlessness as well. It is also described as "the end of the road, the last outpost for an American original.” Among these Americans originals are a wide array of writers: Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Jim Harrison, Thomas McGuane and Hunter S. Thompson, as well as musician Jimmy Buffett, whose music set the tone for the town. What begins as a biography of a place soon branches off into mini-biographies of its residents. McKeen holds his gaze longest on McGuane, described as "the most revered writer of his generation.” Yet soon after his arrival, even McGuane became afflicted with the vices of the island, engaging in the excesses of boozing and womanizing that became a trademark for many of the island's better-known inhabitants. "Lust was a legacy of island life,” writes McKeen, a statement McGuane seemed to set out to prove. Equally engaging is the story of Buffett's miraculous rise from "scruffy street singer" to beloved entertainer. Much of his stardom was attributed to his hit single, "Margaritaville," which “bottled up the essence of Key West in an effervescent, maddeningly memorable pop song.” By the end of the book, McKeen also offers his own take on capturing the essence of the place: “Key West is still Key West"—a statement that, while cryptic, seems to somehow say it all.
An engrossing tell-all in which Key West's most notable residents struggle to find sanity, sobriety and a place to call home.