To try to understand this most incomprehensible state, we need varied and probing narratives, ones that change as Florida changes and are told by people who love the state too deeply to refrain from blistering criticism. Into this role steps the native South Floridian memoirist Kent Russell with his sharp, brilliant, mean, and exasperating hybrid book ... By exasperating, I mean that I’ve never read an account of our gorgeous and messed-up state that is a more appropriate match of form and function. Russell’s book is a braid of diverse strands that shouldn’t work together and yet do ... Russell excels at...delightful nutshell histories, many of which involve a measure of both peril and con-artistry. The backstories of air-conditioning, hurricanes, orange cultivation, Walt Disney, and Miami, in Russell’s telling, all feature some element of wildly ambitious delusion and/or a hair’s-breadth escape from disaster ... Russell is at his best when he offers cultural commentary, dropping his gonzo persona and becoming wickedly insightful ... What undergirds Russell’s narrative of Florida is despair as invisible, dark, and pervasive as the limestone bedrock that sits beneath the state. To me, this feels like both the real and the true story of Florida ... As Russell puts it in his hilarious gut punch of a book—a book that anyone who is interested in not only Florida, but the whole country, should read—'How long before a society of atomized individuals rightfully following only their desires, heedless of what they owe others, destroys itself?'
In his off-kilter adventure story/cultural history In the Land of Good Living, Kent Russell says he doesn't want to pander to those who filter their ideas of the Sunshine State through the absurdist lens of Florida Man memes. Yet he seldom seems to be more generous in his portrayal of his fellow Floridians ... Russell's writing is unfailingly descriptive and engaging when portraying scenes from Florida history ... a buddy movie narrative develops that is a counterbalance to the more serious questions about social realities discovered along the way ... If Florida is indeed the land of good living, then its goodness is particular and individual. Russell's narrative, with film scenes and dialog spliced in, is an engaging adventure of the strangeness of both Florida and its people.
... it is wildly uneven—with flashes of brilliance that are too often bogged down by half-baked analysis, clunky mega-words and, most disappointing of all, muddy writing ... Russell is especially good at thumbnail historical sketches of the avarice and chicanery that made Florida possible ... Along the way we meet some engaging characters ... These people go beyond being merely colorful, all the way to perceptive and, frequently, insightful. They’re also a reminder that Russell is at his best when he gets out of his own skull and does what good reporters do: he listens. Less successful are Russell’s attempts to analyze What Florida Means ... the writing is frequently fuzzy and imprecise ... At its best moments, In the Land of Good Living is a reminder of the walking narrative’s chief virtue: it allows a writer to pass through ever-changing worlds, observing and absorbing at a leisurely pace ... In the end, Russell does arrive at some sharp insights ... I’m not giving up on...Russell because of one uneven book.
...he fills in details about everything from oystering in Apalachicola Bay (and why you’re unlikely to get a real Apalachicola oyster anyplace else), to the shady origin story of Disney World ... Their stop in Tampa and St. Petersburg yields a couple of fascinating interludes. Russell’s insightful history of Florida as a retiree haven, inspired by St. Petersburg, explores just what kind of retirees came here (and still come), and how they have shaped the state ... There are moments of beauty as well, like a breathtaking vision of a Florida panther.
Hold on to your hat. This book will take you on a bumpy ride ... It’s an exciting trip, and well worth your time ... The book is written by a witty, gifted writer, born in Florida, who presents us with an energetic book about a trip he took with two friends ... In the Land of Good Living shows you a side of Florida you may never have seen or heard about ... To call this book a travelogue doesn’t do it justice. And yet, it is. Russell takes us to the heart of Florida and beyond ... Russell’s language often reminds this reader of the best of Bill Bryson, scrambled. Witty language shines throughout.
If Hunter Thompson and Joan Didion had produced a literary offspring, a young man whose older brother was Bill Bryson, his writing might sound something like Kent Russell's. That's the spirit that infuses In the Land of Good Living: A Journey to the Heart of Florida, Russell's entertaining, often deeply reflective portrait of his uneasy relationship with his native state ... Energetic and insightful ... Russell skillfully juxtaposes these sometimes bizarre, frequently hilarious, encounters (some of them recounted in the form of shooting scripts for the projected documentary) with glimpses of the history of the 'swamp of self-creation that, for better or worse, leads the nation the way a jutting thermometer leads the infirm' and visions of its perilous future.
...a extraordinary tale of insane choices, the surreal feeling of Florida, and a months-long, 1,000-mile trek cross-state ... Beyond the bizarre, Russell delves into Florida’s history and shares roadside discussions on everything from post-traumatic stress disorder to politics ... A humorous, heartfelt tribute to the underbelly of Florida and its people. Recommended for fans of travel literature or the unusual survival story.
Whether hauling shrimp, being greeted at gunpoint, or interviewing Jesus in an off-white robe at Epcot Center, Russell writes of his home state with the affectionate exasperation of kinship. His rollicking style is interspersed with screenplay-like scenes that capture the punchy back-and-forth between the three men, their trip as changeable and open to reinvention as the great state they set out to capture.
A picaresque, amiable ramble through arguably the weirdest state in the country ... The political analysis seldom goes deeper, and the narrative is often superficial, a kind of gee-whiz take on a place that, as journalist and Florida native Craig Pittman has written, exceeds every other place in strangeness. And why should that be? Russell doesn’t deep-dive, borrowing instead from T.D. Allman, another journalist, to note that people who come to Florida have tended to want to re-create the societies and places they’ve left behind, if with a slightly hallucinatory quality—which seems just right. Fans of Harry Crews and Carl Hiaasen will enjoy Russell’s entertaining, if lightweight, yarn.
In this enjoyable travel memoir, a long-departed son of the Sunshine State returns with two buddies to explore the nation’s weirdest state ... Throughout, Russell mixes historical insight with heavily ironic state mottos ('Florida: No judge but one’s own') and a dash of empathy ... At once insightful and entertaining, Russell’s observations reinforce Florida’s mystique.