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Florida literature usually tends to be overlooked. If you ask someone what their favourite book featuring Florida is, you might be met with silence or pensive thinking. Sure, someone might eagerly point out the Hemingway lived in Key West, but that hardly counts. We’re talking about literature about Florida. Rest assured though, Culture Trip is here to make sure that literary naivety never happens again! We want you to be aware of Florida’s best writers and most notable works; so we’ve gone ahead and provided you literature enthusiasts with a list of eight novels that capture the real essence of what it means to live or have lived in Florida.
Written in 1938 by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Yearling was the best selling novel in America the year it was published. Set in the heavily animal-populated woodlands of central Florida in 1870, the story is about young Jody Baxter and his relationship with a yearling. As any young boy, Jody loves playing in the outdoors but is constantly reminded by the hardships that his family must face. When Jody’s mother is bitten by a rattlesnake, she is forced to shoot a doe in order to use its liver to suck out the venom. The doe leaves behind a young fawn, and Jody is able to convince his parents that he should adopt the baby deer. As Jody grows up, his yearling companion by his side at all times, he learns many lessons about the tough life of a farmer.
Synonymous with South Florida satirical fiction, Carl Hiassen demonstrates a brilliant propensity for capturing the humor in fictitious yet undoubtedly plausible Floridian crimes and cover ups. There are many stories and subplots at play in Hiaasen’s novels, all of which are connected in some sort of hilariously ridiculous way. Carl writes novels, short stories, editorials for the Miami Herald, and even children’s novels.
His first solo novel in 1986 was Tourist Season, and involves a convoluted story about Brian Keyes, a private investigator and former news reporter for The Miami Sun. Wiley is faced with dangerous gangsters and a hungry crocodile as he attempts to discover the truth about a case of bizarre murders being orchestrated by a renegade newspaper columnist Skip Wiley, who believes that the only way to save Florida’s natural beauty from destruction is to violently dissuade tourists from visiting and settling in the state. Other brilliant Hiaasen novels include Basket Case, Strip Tease, and his latest novel Razor Girl. More from Hiaasen coming up…
Let us quickly re-visit the 1930s for our next novel. Zora Neal Hurston will forever be one of the most gifted writers ever to come out of Florida. The story of her ascendancy to higher education and a professional career as an African American female in the late 19th and early 20th century is incredible. In 1937 Hurston wrote the book Their Eyes Were Watching God, heavily laden with themes of racism, in which she tells the story of Janie Crawford’s ‘ripening from a vibrant, but voiceless, teenage girl into a woman with her finger on the trigger of her own destiny.’ Set in central Florida, this work is regarded as a seminal work in both African-American literature and women’s literature.
Originally published in 1999, Roadkill is set in 1997, against the backdrop of that year’s World Series in which the Florida Marlins won a stunning upset in Miami. Intelligent but sociopathic criminal Serge Storms teams up with heartless stripper Sharon Rhodes and brainless drug addict Seymore ‘Coleman’ Bunsen. Serge hatches a plan to steal an enormous fraudulent insurance settlement from an oversexed dentist, but the money proves surprisingly elusive. We won’t reveal the rather graphic demise of the characters, we’ll just say that the theft doesn’t exactly go as planned. This novel is much like a Hiaasen book, using satire and humor to make a statement about the craziness, ratchet-ness, and deplorable criminal activity that goes on every day in the shadows of Miami.
Peter Matthiessen was an American novelist, naturalist, wilderness writer and CIA agent. He is also the only writer to have won the National Book Award in both fiction and nonfiction and he was also a prominent environmental activist. Set in frontier Florida in the early 1900’s, Matthiessen wrote three books titled Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man’s River, and Bone by Bone. Although Matthiessen never officially gave the trilogy a name, these three books follow the life of a Florida Gulf Coast cane farmer, Edgar J. Watson, who is rumored to have killed many people but the exact accounts are vague. The three books are told from different perspectives, and in the final book Bone by Bone, the record is set straight as Watson narrates his life more or less start to finish.
The Green Ripper is a mystery novel by John D. McDonald, a writer known for his thrillers. MacDonald was a prolific author of crime and suspense novels, many of them set in his adopted home of Florida. His best-known works include the popular and critically acclaimed Travis McGee series, of which The Green Ripper is the 18th of 21 installments. It won a 1980 U.S. National Book Award in the Mystery category. The plot is centered on revenge against a secretive, terrorist cult that is responsible for killing McGee’s lover Gretel. The title is a word play on the name of the Grim Reaper.
We told you that he’d make another appearance. In fact, this whole article could be dedicated to only Hiaasen novels. We’ve already covered one of Hiaasen’s crime filled thrillers, and now it’s time to show off his versatility as a writer by mentioning Hoot, Hiaasen’s first children’s novel. Set in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Hoot is about a young boy named Roy, whose family recently moved from Montana to Florida. Roy makes two oddball friends, a bad enemy, and joins an effort to stop construction of a pancake house which would destroy a colony of burrowing owls who live on the site. The book won a Newbery Honor award in 2003, and a film adaptation was released in 2006.
Another popular Florida book for children and young adults is Because of Winn-Dixie, written by Kate DiCamillo and published in 2000. The book won several awards, including the Mark Twain Award, for its symbolic imagery and creative story telling. The novel follows the story of a 10 year old named India Opal Buloni who has just moved to a trailer park in the small town of Naomi, Florida. Opal finds a scruffy, stray dog in a Winn-Dixie Supermarket one day and claims it as her own. The book narrates Opals transition into a new life and creatively describes her maturation, as she learns to empathize and forgive.