If Redneck Riviera were a novel, you wouldn’t believe it. Dennis Covington’s tale of land theft, guy-toting rednecks, armadillos and family honor is so packed with quirky characters and outlandish situations that, were it fiction, you’d likely roll your eyes and moan, “Oh, come on!”
But the story is true. Covington’s father bought two-and-a-half acres of land in Florida, dubbed River Ranch Acres, thinking he was purchasing a piece of the American Dream. Instead, he was the victim of a real estate scam, procuring useless swamp and prairie land. If that weren’t bad enough, shortly before his death, a nefarious group called The Hunt Club (and yes, this is the kind of story for which the word “nefarious” was invented) illegally claimed and fenced the land.
In his will, Covington’s distraught dad left him the land, so Covington fights to get it back, going from his home in Alabama to the land in Florida several times and incurring the wrath of several ill-tempered hunters who, among other things, shoot the heck out of a makeshift cabin Covington builds on the land.
The story rambles between Covington’s quest (which shifts throughout the book) and stories about his home, his dad, his family and several other incidents in his life, including his childhood desire to see an armadillo and how that comes full circle in his adulthood. It’s all a little shapeless and, in the end, there doesn’t seem to have been that much of a point to it.
But Covington is good company, and he introduces us to some memorable characters, including his good-hearted, if naïve, dad, his plucky sister Jeanie, and the bizarre folks who populate River Ranch. Especially memorable is Franklin Tolliver, a sullen, blunt landowner who Covington tries to recruit to help him gain access to the Hunt Club. That proves difficult, to say the least.
Though it isn’t profound, Redneck Riviera has plenty of good things to say about dreams and convictions. Namely that they don’t always work out. But they can make for good stories.