Matt Marino on the Florida Novel A Land Remembered

This past month, the wonderful folks at Midtown Reader offered me the pleasure of leading a book club discussion on Lauren Groff’s Florida (amazing read, and on sale at your local Midtown Reader). By the end of the lively and stimulating discussion, a few of us offered some recommendations to continue scratching that Florida fiction itch. I recommended A Land Remembered, and I got a cacophonous “AMEN” from the group in response. (I’m almost positive that’s how it happened.)

If you’ve ever been to my website, or been within a two-mile radius of me, you’ve probably heard me shouting the praises of Patrick D. Smith’s landmark novel. Smith’s classic is not only recognized, seemingly on a recurring annual basis, as great Florida fiction, but it is also my favorite book of all time. The book has even inspired an Orlando restaurant, although I would expect that this development—and Orlando in general—would rattle the ideological cages of the first two generations of MacIvey’s.

Published in 1984, Smith’s historical fiction covers over 100 years of pioneer Florida history, and follows three generations of MacIveys as they struggle to survive on the Florida frontier after migrating from Georgia. Between 1859 and 1968, the MacIveys grow and prosper amidst crackers, cattle, cattle rustlers, mosquitoes, hurricanes, oranges, frosts, wars, starvation, and greed.

The MacIvey legacy is passed first to Zech, who builds it into a cattle empire, then to Sol, who becomes a Flagler-esque real estate tycoon. Nearing the end of his life, Sol leaves his Miami Beach mansion and retreats to his father’s modest cabin near Punta Rassa, contemplating his role in the conquest that directly led to the annihilation of the very land that sustained his family, and that of his Seminole half-brother.

Patrick Smith was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, the most prestigious cultural honor that the State of Florida offers to its citizens. He shares the wall with Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Zora Neale Hurston, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Ray Charles, Stetson Kennedy, and Tennessee Williams, among others. He was recognized by the Florida Historical Society as the “Greatest Living Floridian” with the Fay Schweim Award, and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize three times (1973, Forever Island; 1978, Angel City; 1984, A Land Remembered). His body of work has since nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature six times. He passed away in January 2014.

This book is absolutely required reading for any Floridian, native or otherwise. It has recently been adopted in a graphic novel by Andre R. Frattino, and his tireless research developed into beautiful imagery. But like any adaptation, some elements of the source material are left behind. I recommend reading the novel first, then diving into the graphic novel.

Read this book, and you will begin to develop an intimate relationship with a state that is so often misunderstood or misrepresented in popular culture. If nothing else, if you enjoy words on paper, you will love A Land Remembered.