cover image In the Land of Good Living: A Journey to the Heart of Florida

In the Land of Good Living: A Journey to the Heart of Florida

Kent Russell. Knopf, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-52138-9

In this enjoyable travel memoir, a long-departed son of the Sunshine State returns with two buddies to explore the nation’s weirdest state. Self-described “incautious Kerouac wannabe” and back-tax-dodging Russell (I Am Sorry to Have Raised a Timid Son) hauled his friends Glenn, “an affable Ottawan,” and Iraq War vet Noah (“We fit together and dangerously so”) along on a poorly thought-out odyssey into the sweaty, swampy heart of Florida in the summer of 2016. Planning to shoot a documentary, the three instead rambled down highways and threw ironic bromides back and forth—related in biting screenplay-format interludes—while Russell “tried to think Bruce Chatwin-y thoughts.” They encountered the expected range of Florida Man types, including Trump-loving fishermen, a crazed Jesus performer with a “down-and-out Pete Sampras vibe,” and prison-tatted marijuana growers in the surreal ruins of a never-completed suburban scam development. Throughout, Russell mixes historical insight with heavily ironic state mottos (“Florida: No judge but one’s own”) and a dash of empathy. As the trio amble south toward Miami and the author’s childhood home, he reflects on the state’s blithely corrupt history: “There are no innocents here. Only individuals who wanted waterfront property for pennies on the dollar.” At once insightful and entertaining, Russell’s observations reinforce Florida’s mystique. (July)