by Dennis Covington (Counterpoint)
Dennis Covington is a true literary anomaly. A self-described Alabama redneck, he has written about snake handling firsthand (Salvation on Sand Mountain, a National Book Award nominee), penned New York Times articles from the bullet-sprayed hovels of war-torn countries, and perhaps most shockingly, co-authored with his wife Vicki Cleaving, a scathing chronicle of their turbulent, adulterous marriage. He is either the bravest, or the dumbest writer working today, a baffling mixture of keen literary sensibility and trailer trash stubbornness that produces uneven, often discomforting, and invariably mesmerizing work.
In Redneck Riviera, Covington embraces his roots, doggedly pursuing a patch of Florida land he inherited from his father but never claimed. His adventure takes him into a rural, swampy sprawl of gorgeous wilderness pocked with more human dangers and corruption than Covington probably ever faced as a war correspondent. Protective of their long-used prime hunting grounds, squatters and other hick variants do everything they can to keep him out, threatening his life and riddling his jeep and makeshift cabin with high-powered bullets. When Covington's plans for justice are foiled by neglectful local police, he takes matters into his own hands, sneaking through the underbrush, dressed all in black and carrying a gun of his own, determined to enter his own property and show the assholes they can't push him around.
Threading through this gripping narrative is the memory of Covington's father, and the misguided American Dream that propelled him to buy the worthless land in the first place. Covington frequently swings off on philosophical, socio-economic tangents, as well as sudden, sad, and often gorgeous personal reflections. In one he laments the aging process. "You suddenly see yourself as fragile inside, like the discarded exoskeleton of some spiny sea creature," he writes. In another, he devotes an entire chapter to the connections between his childhood associations with armadillos and his father. In an otherwise crisp, fast-paced narrative, such indulgences may seem out of place, but with the endlessly quirky and unpredictable Dennis Covington, one learns to expect, and look forward to them. JUSTIN WESCOAT SANDERS