Book Review of A Salty Piece of Land by Jimmy Buffett
I’ve always enjoyed Jimmy Buffett‘s music, that mix of escapism, tropical delights, and a touch of self-indulgence and hedonism that brings an easy smile and whisks your mind away to a warm and sunny place.
During the winter, I leave the bitter cold and deep snowpack at home for a jaunt to Mexico or the Caribbean for my own escape from reality. When I first read about Jimmy Buffett’s new book, A Salty Piece of Land, I figured it was right up my alley. It turns out I was right. This novel was pure pleasure from beginning to end.
A Salty Piece of Land brings back the character of Tully Mars from Jimmy Buffett’s previous novel, Tales from Margaritaville. Tully is a Wyoming cowboy on the lam. The ranch where he lives and works has been converted to a poodle ranch run by a universally hated woman by the name of Thelma Barston.
After Tully throws a massage table through her plate glass window, she uses her political connections to trump up charges and have a warrant issued for his arrest. Tully takes his faithful steed, Mr. Twain, and decides he wants to see the ocean. With bounty hunters on his trail, this begins a series of adventures for him that will take him to the Alabama coast, Key West, Mexico, Belize, Cuba, and the Bahamas.
Tully is a kind soul, hard worker, and a quick learner. He befriends a shrimp boat captain named Captain Kirk who teaches him his first lessons about the ways of the sea and transports him and Mr. Twain to a remote part of the Yucatan peninsula called Punta Margarita.
He also meets and begins a budding friendship with a musician/treasure hunter/pilot named Willie Singer. Tully lands a job as a fly-fishing guide at the Lost Boys fishing camp in Punta Margarita. It’s run by a man named Bucky Norman who leases the land from the manager of a country western singer named Tex Sex.
The other fly-fishing guide is a Mayan shaman, Ix-Nay. In the remote outpost of Punta Margarita, Tully feels like he can leave his past behind and try to figure out where his new life will lead him. On a trip to the Mayan ruins at Tulum, he’s stranded when he totals a Jeep. While waking a from a ganja-induced dream on the beach there, he sees a beautiful schooner coming into the bay.
Its captain is 101-year old Cleopatra Highbourne, and she’s on a mission to find a fresnel lens for a lighthouse she wants to refurbish on the Bahamian island of Cayo Loco, the salty piece of land of the book’s title.
It’s an endeavor that will eventually involve Tully and his friends, but first he must make a trip to Belize to find a Land Rover to replace the Jeep.
A man on the run from the law with a fake passport and bounty hunters in pursuit must be careful. Which is how Tully ended up in the middle of a wild spring break party with a couple hot college girls.
That’s a quick outline to the plot, although the plot is not that important. It serves as the vehicle to further the adventures of Tully and his new-found friends. Some of the chapters in this novel are letters from Willie Singer as he searches for a fresnel lens while island hopping his way across the south Pacific in a seaplane.
Each adventure is just plain fun as Tully finds out what’s important to his life, and that answer is invariably a sense of ethics, a lot of fun, and good friends you can count on anytime. It helps that a lot of these friends are very wealthy and can come to the rescue at the drop of a hat.
Tully continues to find like-minded people, often making instant connections as if they share the same karma. Karma and mysticism play a recurring role in A Salty Piece of Land, from his father’s friend and Indian medicine man, Johnny Red Dust, to Ix-Nay the Mayan shaman, to an odd religion on a forgotten South Sea island.
A Salty Piece of Land is a fun ride through Jimmy Buffett’s idea of paradise, and you get the sense it’s a place he’s visited often. Many of his own loves, flying, sailing, and fishing, are featured prominently in the novel. It’s a world where drink, ganja, and fun are pleasant additions if not done to excess.
It’s also a place where the dark forces of greed, corpocracy, and pollution threaten paradise. A disdain for tourists and resorts and an affection for indigenous people who’ve learned to live off the land runs strong through the novel. Even Cuban baseball, played for pride instead of greedy contracts, plays a role.
This is not a literary novel and A Salty Piece of Land has no pretensions that it is. There will undoubtedly be those readers put off by its lack of any real drama or suspense. At times it’s predictable, but it’s a comforting predictability at that.
You know the good guys will win, the friends will be there in the time of need, and all surprises will eventually be pleasant ones. That doesn’t distract from the enjoyment of the novel, but adds to it instead.
Jimmy Buffett’s prose easily transports the reader to the different settings in his paradise. I don’t fish, I’ve never sailed a schooner across the Caribbean, or flown a plane. By the end of this novel, I wanted to do all three. Therein lies the charm of this book: its easy access to warmth and beauty of many types.
If you want a piece of escapist fiction that will bring a smile to your face and a longing for a trip to the tropics, then A Salty Piece of Land is the right prescription for what ails you.
How can you go wrong with a book that includes a passage that uses fishing as a metaphor for life? Some books are just plain fun, and this is one of them. Enjoy your cheeseburger in paradise.
Read a free excerpt from A Salty Piece of Land
Tully mars, checking in
It all simply comes down to good guys and bad guys. As a kid, I wanted to be like Roy Rogers, the good-guy cowboy of all time.
Roy and his horse, Trigger, would go riding through the movies, helping those in peril while never seeming to sweat, get a scratch, or wrinkle a pair of perfectly creased blue jeans. When the day was over, they would join the Sons of Pioneers by the campfire and sing the sun to sleep. Now that is what I called the perfect job.
One day, long ago in another place and another time, I was playing out my fantasy of being Roy with my childhood pals in the rolling hills above Heartache, Wyoming, where I was raised.
We were racing our horses, bat-out-of-hell style, through the aspen grove that led to our little ranch. Like a true daredevil, I passed my friends in a wild sprint to the finish line, and once I had the lead, I turned around to admire my move as the leader of the pack.
The next thing I remembered was waking up on the ground, my head covered with blood, my left arm pointing in the wrong direction, and pain-lots of pain-shooting through my young body. That’s when I knew that life wasn’t a movie.
During my mending process, I discovered a new role model in Butch Cassidy, who took me through my teenage years. He wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes, and that seemed more in tune with the way my life was working out in the real world. He thumbed his nose at authority. To put it in today’s terms, Butch Cassidy didn’t work for The Man. He was his own man. He ran away to Patagonia.
The West was changing, and so was I. Now, looking back, I have to thank old Roy for teaching me that when you fall from your horse, you climb back in the saddle and plow ahead. From Butch, I figured out that what I wanted to be was my own man, just a good guy with a few bad habits. This is Tully Mars reporting in.
When I left Wyoming some years ago and made a not-so-difficult choice between becoming a poodle-ranch foreman or a tropical expatriate, I tossed a massage table through the giant plate-glass window of the ranch house owned by my former boss and modern-day witch Thelma Barston.
That day, heading off to freedom, I made myself a promise. As I fled across America, I swore I would never again work for anybody but me. I pretty much kept that promise until I met Cleopatra Highbourne.
Cleopatra Highbourne is my present boss and the woman who brought me here to this salty piece of land in the southern Bahamas. She hired me to restore a 150-year-old lighthouse on Cayo Loco, which she owns, having swapped for it with the Bahamian government for some property on Bay Street in Nassau.
To begin with, Cleopatra is 101 years old, but she doesn’t look a day over 80. She is the captain of her beautiful schooner, the Lucretia, which was a present from her father on her eighteenth birthday.
Cleopatra has simply defied the aging process. Her eyes are a piercing green, and her speech is lilted with an island accent that is somewhere between Jamaican and Cuban. There isn’t a romance language or Caribbean patois she doesn’t speak like a native, and there isn’t an island she hasn’t set foot on between Bimini and Bonaire. Her skeleton is erect, which she attributes to being a practitioner of yoga for eighty years, having been taught the craft by Gandhi himself. She wears no hearing aids or glasses. Her skin is void of the weathered, leatherlike appearance caused by age, ocean, and ultraviolet exposure. She never smoked cigarettes, but she has her daily ration of rum and occasionally will puff a little opium if she is feeling ill. She also has a taste for Cuban cigars.
She dines on fish, rice, and tropical fruits, and a collection of potions, teas, and elixirs keep her biorhythms, brain, and sense of humor humming. She cusses like the sailor that she is, and she is rabidly addicted to Cuban baseball.
Though she says she has a few good years left in her, Cleopatra is on a most urgent mission, and that is where I come in. I am here to rebuild the lighthouse as her final resting place while she continues her search for an original Fresnel lens, which was the light source for this and many other old lighthouses.
So how does a cowboy wind up as a lighthouse keeper? Well, I didn’t fill out any job application. How I went from the saddle, to the deck of a schooner, to the tower of this lighthouse still baffles me. But I believe in the aboriginal line of thinking that life’s adventures are the verses and choruses of your unique song, and when it is over, you are dead. So far, I am still singing, but I would point out that adventures don’t come calling like unexpected cousins visiting from out of town. You have to go looking for them, and that is exactly how I wound up on Cayo Loco.
About Jimmy Buffet
James William Buffett (born December 25, 1946) is an American poly-math, who over his years has been a singer-songwriter, musician, author, actor, and businessman.
He is best known though for his music, which often portrays an “island escapism” lifestyle. Together with his Coral Reefer Band, Buffett has recorded hit songs and he has a devoted base of fans known as “Parrotheads”.
Aside from his business ventures and career in music, Buffett is also a bestselling author. He has a number of books under his belt including:
- Tales from Margaritaville
- Where Is Joe Merchant?
- A Pirate Looks at Fifty
- The Jolly Mon (co-written with his daughter Savannah Jane Buffett)
- Trouble Dolls co-written with his daughter Savannah Jane Buffett)
- A Salty Piece of Land
- Swine Not?
Title: A Salty Piece of Land
Author: Jimmy Buffett
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: November 30, 2004
Formats Available: Paperback/Hard Cover/Ebook/Audio Book
The editor of The Readers Loft, and pursuer of relatively interesting information, Simon has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and Journalism from the University of Wales, and is a photo-journalist and writer whose written and photographic work has been represented by the AFP news agency and appeared in newspapers across Europe and Asia.