I bought this book off a discount table for $4. I had my doubts that Jimmy Buffett could write a decent novel, so I pushed it to the side. Months later, I stumbled across the abridged audio book for $1 and took the plunge. Now that I owned the work in two different formats and had invested a grand total of $5, I really had to make an effort to read (or listen) to it. So I popped the first tape into the player, and off we went!

I quickly realized that I was a fool to doubt Buffett. After all, Buffet tells great stories in his songs, most of which he writes himself. Is this really much different than writing a novel?

Having said this, the book doesn’t quite fit the mold of a traditional novel. You could easily chop the book into several novellas that would stand on their own with minimal ties to the other parts.

The central character is Tully Mars. Tully began his journey in Montana before he was forced to flee from the injustice of bogus criminal charges. At points in the book, he ends up in Alabama, Florida, Mexico, Cuba, and Belize (come on, go grab a map and find it). The core theme of the book is Tully’s effort to help centegenarian Cleopatra Highbourne find a rare fresnel lens for the lighthouse on Cayo Loco. Caya Loco is the “Salty Piece of Land” referred to in the title.

During the course of the book, we are treated to rather length flashbacks of recent (and not so recent) events in Tully’s life. Tully really would like to settle down, but the bounty hunters that his former employer sent after him make it difficult to stay in one spot very long. Tully eventually ends up as a fishing guide at a fishing lodge in Mexico, where he does manage a bit of a respite before being forced to move on once again, this time to the lighthouse on Cayo Loco, where he works to restore the lighthouse to its former glory, while also coordinating an effort to find the rare fresnel lens.

While Tully is the narrator of the book, many other characters have significant roles. The aptly named musician Willie Singer tells his own adventures to Tully in the long letters he sends. Willie is attempting to circumnavigate the globe in an old sea plane, while also attempting to locate a fresnel lens for Tully and Cleopatra. Singer is welcomed in some interesting ways on his stops – including being welcomed as the second coming of a mythical US Navy pilot who had crash landed at the same place decades ago.

Then, of course, there is Cleopatra Highbourne, the 101 year old caption of the schooner Lucretia. While Cleopatra is completely consumed by her goal of restoring the Cayo Loco lighthouse to its former glory – complete with the elusive fresnel lens – so that it can serve as her final resting place, she also regales Tully with the story of her life. Even at her advanced age, Cleopatra spends much of her time sailing on the Lucretia. She is no figurehead captain, but is the unquestioned authority on board the schooner.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though. If you like lighthouses, fishing, airplanes, or simply enjoy a good tale, you might enjoy this book. My only regret is that I listened to the abridged edition – now I’ll have to read the unabridged version in order to avoid missing any good parts.

A Salty Piece of Land (book)

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Cheri Nobel partners with Bob Inferapels to write a weekly column on entertainment and recreational activities. Read all of Cheri's articles in The Playground.

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