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Times of the Islands Magazine

A Florida Man Writes A Book About Some Kinda Crazy Characters

If you’ve made your way through all the Hiaasens, Dorseys and Randy Wayne Whites on your bookshelf, and still find yourself longing for a Florida adventure like no other, there’s a new kid on the block. His name is Tom Cooper, a Florida native now living in New Orleans, who has chosen to tackle the stranger side of the Sunshine State in Florida Man, his second novel. His first, The Marauders, told the story of the crazy characters who inhabit the Louisiana Gulf Coast. In Florida Man, he turns his attention to the arguably crazier characters of the Florida Gulf Coast. 

Cooper’s main characters live up to the book’s title, shared with the notorious internet meme that capitalizes on the bizarre behavior of certain inhabitants of the state. The leading man is Reed Crowe, the quintessential beach bum who runs a ramshackle tourist attraction called the Florida Man Mystery House, along with a nearby rundown motel. He has survived for years off a stash of drugs he found quite literally by accident in the Everglades when he was a teenager.

Crowe must contend with other Florida men of his ilk: Henry Yahchilane, a Seminole native with something to hide; Wayne Wade, Crowe’s childhood friend turned lowlife; Catface, a Cuban boat refugee with few redeeming qualities who is out to kill Crowe for stealing his drugs and leaving him for dead in the Everglades.  

And there are the Florida Women: Heidi, Crowe’s globetrotting ex-wife; Otter, his daughter, whose death he never recovers from; Nina Arango, a volatile Cuban refugee who Crowe falls in love with; Gabby Vu, a physician and friend with benefits.

The action takes place primarily on Emerald Island, a made-up place on the edge of the Everglades in Southwest Florida. Some real places are mentioned, Sanibel, Captiva, Fort Myers and Cape Coral among them, but for the most part this is a made-up world with some questionable geography and a kernel of truth.  

Florida Man is a rough and raw tale about this edge of the world, spanning the decades from 1963 to 2019. The book is populated with any number of crimes and misdemeanors, as well as the trials of people just trying to survive a harsh environment. As the pages turn and the years go by, the reader becomes more and more invested in these crazy but endearing characters, as they become more invested in each other. 

Florida Man is not always easy reading (there are some despicable people in here), but it leads to a singular truth: that there are many sides—good, bad and indifferent—to most human beings, even the so-called “Florida Man.”