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Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 928

The novel makes a weak stab at portraying the relational dynamics of a couple who have separated but are still in love. Frank and Trevor had a passionate involvement that crumbled in the absence of good communication. Frank possesses no insight on how to reach out emotionally to a woman...

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The novel makes a weak stab at portraying the relational dynamics of a couple who have separated but are still in love. Frank and Trevor had a passionate involvement that crumbled in the absence of good communication. Frank possesses no insight on how to reach out emotionally to a woman in turmoil. He is a stereotypical male who has never learned to express his feelings or emotionally connect with the needs of his partner. Frank resolves to make an earnest effort with Trevor and reclaim the relationship he thought he had lost. At the story's close he manages to share his heart with her and their relationship holds the promise of permanence as they establish themselves in wilds of Alaska.

The female perspective is not well voiced. It is sketched out in Trevor's quick prejudgment of Frank, which belies her low expectations of his dependability. Once the couple has relocated Trevor writes to friends that Frank talks more and she is happy. This happily-ever-after postscript salutes good communication as the key to relational happiness.

The tropical allure of paradise at a reasonable price and an easy commute from Miami has enabled Jimmy Buffett to become an icon of Gauguinesque escapism to a stress-ridden society. The central character of the story, Frank Bama, lives the male escapist fantasy. By occupation he is a seaplane pilot, able to lift above the cares of the world at will. He leaves the earth "when things get too complicated. When I'm sitting at the controls of my flying boat over the ocean, there is no sense of urgency. The tempo allows me to do what needs to be done. When I am standing on the earth, I realize how fast things are really moving." But for Bama, paradise has become corrupted by exploitation and hard times. When his seaplane, the Hemisphere Dancer, is being sought by the repo man Bama turns to a new paradise, one still possessing purity and possibility, Kodiak Island, Alaska as his next destination. In the past escapism undermined his relationship with Trevor, taking flight when things got too complicated or uncomfortable. As the hour of Bama's Alaskan departure approaches, his plans become challenged by the needs of others — his old lover, Trevor, and his buddy, Blanton Meyercord. However reluctant at first, he does not desert Trevor when she arrives needing his help. He has reached a point where he no longer wants to escape the responsibilities of a relationship.

A destructive brand of escapism is depicted in the life Joe Merchant. As a youth drugs and rock and roll offered Joe an escape from the military world to which his father had conscripted him. As his music rocketed him to stardom he continued in his escapism through drug abuse, to no satisfaction. In a perverse twist of character he escapes the persona of Joe Merchant to become Charlie Fabian, soldier in a murderous legion. This escape comes with an expensive price tag. As well as forfeiting his soul he unwittingly paves the way for his mother's death and endangers his sister as his new master, Colonel Adrian Cairo seeks control of the family's money. He comes to the realization that he and his family are doomed if he stays in league with the Colonel and his survival now depends on escaping the life that the Colonel created for him as Charlie Fabian. His old identity is awakened when he encounters his signature song on an airplane. The revived Joe Merchant recovers some semblance of decency as he assists Frank in a confrontation with Cairo's thugs, and then foils Cairo's quest to have his missing arm magically restored.

Where Is Joe Merchant? takes note of two forms of media escapism. A subplot running through the novel lampoons the societal blight of yellow journalism, a crass type of escapism attained by an unfailing disregard for dignity and reality. The personification of sleaze, Lighthouse reporter Rudy Breno engages in a pathetic chase of the Jet Ski Killer and Joe Merchant throughout the Caribbean. The episodes involving Breno and his publication make a loathsome mockery of the tabloid industry.

The theme of man's quest for the supernatural is handled with the same playful lightheartedness that characterize its treatment in Buffett's music, simply put, "don't take yourself too seriously." Bama only articulates a reverential attitude when navigating his way through perilous weather or extreme danger. Then he offers quick homage to St. Christopher and the Lord sees him through the present trial. Conventional faith, however, is not the prevailing route to the supernatural in this novel. Desdemona, a self-described conduit for messages from "beyond," transports the story into the realm of the mystical. Her mission to set the Cosmic Muffin on a course which will land her somewhere in the Pleiades serves as a vehicle between the mundane and the fantastic. A white dolphin named Albion explains ancient mysteries of heaven and earth to her and she routinely sits in an inner tube at the Healing Hole. There she receives messages from the Generators, spacemen from Pleiades, who throw her clues about her destiny like so many jigsaw pieces. Her bizarre claims and her obsession with building a crystal-powered rocket ship brand her quickly as a wacko. But as a familiar phrase from one of Buffett's songs states "if we weren't all crazy we'd all go insane." The novel's exploration of the mysteries of the universe is done from the same whimsical outlook prevalent in much of Buffett's music. Desdemona's attraction to the stars and mythology express an unbridled wonder of the universe.

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