2012-08-08 / Other News

For an unforgettable Florida story, turn to ‘A Land Remembered’

BY GLENN MILLER
Florida Weekly Correspondent

“A Land Remembered” is a book not to be forgotten.

People who read it love it, treasure it and share it. It’s about a Florida that ceased to exist before anybody alive today was born, a place 21st century Floridians can’t comprehend.

One before Disney World and highways and condos. Before air conditioning and the dredges that changed the shape of rivers and all those causeways and bridges linking beaches to the mainland.

The novel by Merritt Island author Patrick D. Smith touches people like perhaps no Florida book ever has or ever will. The story that spans the Civil War and concludes in 1968 was published in 1984, and after nearly 30 years, the gushing love and accolades keep piling up.

“It gets bigger and bigger,” Mr. Smith, 84, recently told Florida Weekly. “It’s a surprise,” he added — one well beyond what he imagined when he began creating his characters, the ones readers embraced as if they were real.

To capture a sense of the love this book generates, go to the author’s website, www.patricksmithonline.com. Look at the guest book. Read some of the more than 600 comments of undying love for the book and its characters — the plucky MacIvey family, the former slave Skillit, the dogs Nip and Tuck, the hired hands, the Seminoles.

“… every student in this state should have to read it before they graduate high school,” Mark McKinney of Gainesville wrote on the website’s guestbook.

There’s this from Karen Magruder, a Gainesville schoolteacher: “Every year, ‘A Land Remembered’ is avidly read by my fourth grade students. They can’t put it down.”

Martin Pryor of Quincy wrote, “… truly should be Florida’s State Book.”

Rob Dwyer of Fort Meade said he’s read it 16 times. “I take it every deer season to the Peace River,” he wrote.

Ed Horne of Fort Myers wrote, “… sent it to my son in the Marines in Afghanistan.”

The comments go on and on, from readers who wish the 403-page novel just kept going and going. “I wish it was 10,000 pages long,” James Mann of Melbourne wrote.

They get swept up in the saga, in the characters and the startling changes that several decades brought to the state. They also love the man who created the story, opening a window into the harsh yet beautiful world of 19th century Florida.

Mr. Smith captures and describes a Florida thinly populated with pioneers and Seminoles and speckled with cattle drives and rootin’, tootin’, shootin’ real life cowboys a long way from the Wild West.

Punta Gorda resident Linda Fasulo reviews Florida books for WGCU-FM public radio. Over the years she’s read hundreds of Florida books. When Florida Weekly asked her for her most beloved Florida book, she didn’t hesitate with her reply.

“Well, ‘A Land Remembered’ is my No. 1,” she said.

And not just her favorite Florida book. “That’s probably my No. 1 all-time favorite,” she said.

Mrs. Fasulo believes the book resonates with readers for several reasons — history, sense of place, vivid characters, lively story-telling.

It all, in the end, might come down to the characters that Mr. Smith created and that readers spend hours getting to know. They fight off varmints and desperadoes and meet their future spouses and see other family members die; they race horses and go to dances and rescue each other and grow old and die.

“They become your family,” Mrs. Fasulo said.

About the author

The author who created the family has battled health problems in recent years. There’s been prostate cancer and emphysema.

“Hospice kicked him out,” his son, Rick, said of his father, who may be as plucky and tough as his characters.

The elder Mr. Smith is at his Merritt Island home, near the end of his story, but still basking in praise. The Tampa Bay Times recently ran a first-rate profile of him. He’s received the 2012 Florida Lifetime Achievement Award for writing. In 2011, Florida Monthly named “A Land Remembered” Florida’s Best Book for the 10th consecutive year.

“ I never thought it would win so many honors,” Mr. Smith said.

Rick Smith said the most surprising element of the book’s success is that, “Kids go head over heels for it.” He’s also heard of elderly Floridians who wanted it read to them on their deathbeds. “People passed away while somebody was reading ‘A Land Remembered,” he said.

Florida Gulf Coast University professor Joe Wisdom is quoted on the author’s website as saying that copies of the book “… should be handed out with orange juice at welcome stations to anyone who crosses the state line.”

They surely would never forget “A Land Remembered.” ¦

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