Book Review: Florida Man by Tom Cooper

PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge Prompt: N/A Other PS 2020 reading prompts this would satisfy: A book that's published in 2020, A ...

PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge Prompt: N/A

Other PS 2020 reading prompts this would satisfy: A book that's published in 2020, A book you picked because the title caught your attention

TW: Homophobia, misogyny, racism and racial slurs, loss of child, violence, suicide, pedophilia 

When I came across Florida Man on Netgalley, I requested it immediately. Not only did the title completely interest me, but I also noticed it was by Tom Cooper, the author of The Marauders - a book I read several years ago when I was just getting into reading again, and thoroughly enjoyed. I was convinced I would love this one too. So I either had a completely different mindset when I read The Marauders, or Cooper's writing in this book completely changed. Florida Man was so all over the place, I couldn't even write my own synopsis because I had no clue what the point or description of the book was.

Brief synopsis pulled from Amazon: Florida, circa 1980. Reed Crowe, the eponymous Florida Man, is a middle-aged beach bum, beleaguered and disenfranchised, living on ill-gotten gains deep in the jungly heart of Florida. When sinkholes start opening on Emerald Island, not only are Reed Crowe's seedy businesses—a moribund motel and a shabby amusement park—endangered, but so are his secrets. Crowe, amateur spelunker, begins uncovering artifacts that change his understanding of the island’s history, as well as his understanding of his family’s birthright as pioneering homesteaders. Meanwhile, there are other Florida men with whom Crowe must contend. Hector “Catface” Morales, a Cuban refugee, trained assassin, and crack-addicted Marielito, is seeking revenge on Reed for stealing his stash of drugs and leaving him for dead (unbeknownst to Reed) in the wreckage of a plane crash in the Everglades decades ago. Loner and misanthrope Henry Yahchilane, a Seminole native, has something to hide on the island. So does irascible and pervy Wayne Wade, Reed Crowe’s childhood friend turned bad penny. Then there are the Florida women, including Heidi Karavas, Reed Crowe’s ex-wife, now a globe-trekking art curator, and Nina Arango, a Cuban refugee and fiercely protective woman with whom Reed Crowe falls in love. There are curses. There are sea monsters. There are biblical storms. There’s something called the Jupiter Effect. Ultimately, Florida Man is a generation-spanning story about how a man decides to live his life, and how despite staying landlocked and stubbornly in one place, the world nevertheless comes to him. 

So to get started, this book is extremely problematic. The book is set (mostly) during the 1980s in Florida. While the main character is white, the cast is pretty diverse. There's a main character who's indigenous, there are Cuban refugees. But here's the deal - Yahchilane (the indigenous character) is most likely a murderer. One of the Cuban refugees is a drug lord and ruthless killer. The Cuban woman is shown as extremely angry and short-tempered. The Cuban child is sexualized starting at a young age. It's all very cringe-worthy. And these characters are just the tip of the iceberg.

Then there's the issue of pedophilia. Another of the main characters is obsessing over young children, shows his dick to young girls, films pedophilic videos. And though he's seen as a frustrating character, people continue to let his actions slide on by.

Not to mention the plethora of racist and homophobic slurs and accusations. I was not at all comfortable with this book. 

And even without all the problematic content, this book was choppy as hell. It’s about five different novels rolled up into one, and I only gave the book two stars, because somewhere in there was an interesting story. But I was often confused on the timeline. Too many things were actually happening that were completely unrelated and gave no greater purpose to the rest of the book. The one thing in the book that I actually found to be shocking is actually in the synopsis above, but I notoriously hardly ever read synopses before reading a book so I had no idea I should’ve gone into the book knowing that.

If done well, this book could’ve had very similar vibes to Stephen King’s Duma Key, which is a book I love to pieces. It could’ve been the not so scary equivalent. But it wasn’t done well. The book felt so long, I had some character attachment by the end, but the story itself was just too chunky, choppy, and random. And honestly, if I never read the words “beach bum” again for the rest of my life, I’d be a-okay with that. I get that repeating similar words and phrases over and over again was a literary way of making the reader feel the monotony of being in the same place your entire life with no desire to leave. But I had a desire to stop reading this book. 

"If you ever get lost, or if you're ever in trouble, go to the beach house." - Florida Man, Tom Cooper

I don’t like to tell folks not to read a book, but I’m not sure who the target audience is here, and I truly think this book is more confusing than it’s worth. And like I mentioned, so much of the book is just truly problematic, and it was difficult to read at times because of those concerns. If it sounds up your alley, I just heed you to go in at your own risk.

Goodreads rating: ★★☆☆☆

*I received a digital review copy of this book free in exchange for review. All opinions are entirely my own.

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