Literary Techniques

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 95

Buffett's storytelling style employs exaggeration, escapism, pathos, and humor to explore the stresses and complexities of modern life. His work in print expands the stories and spirit of his music. Where Is Joe Merchant? is peppered with characters and situations previously introduced in Buffett's music and stories. Desdemona has appeared...

(The entire section contains 2138 words.)

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Buffett's storytelling style employs exaggeration, escapism, pathos, and humor to explore the stresses and complexities of modern life. His work in print expands the stories and spirit of his music. Where Is Joe Merchant? is peppered with characters and situations previously introduced in Buffett's music and stories. Desdemona has appeared in his short fiction, Tales from Margaritaville, and in his song, "Fruit cakes," while Blanton Meyercord resembles the environmental terrorist portrayed in a song from Barometer Soup called "The ballad of Skip Willey." Lines and titles frequently borrowed from Buffett songs appear throughout the novel.

Social Concerns

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 917

Where Is Joe Merchant? is the first novel by folk pop artist Jimmy Buffett following his best-selling collection of short fiction, Tales from Margaritaville (1989). Buffett proves himself a capable novelist, easily filling the full canvas of longer fiction with an engaging lyrical adventure set in the Caribbean islands near Hispaniola. As is true with the music of Jimmy Buffett, it reflects the captivating grace and rhythm of island life. Buffett's passion for the islands, the sea, and navigation (both air and sea), brings authenticity to the exotic setting of this adventure novel.

The novel's hero, Frank Bama, served in Vietnam as a seaplane pilot. After the service he obtains the Goose Gruman seaplane of his dreams which he christens the Hemisphere Dancer and uses for his business as a sport fishing guide and a spotter for commercial fishermen.

Bama radiates confidence, affability, and wit as he faces a steady stream of difficulties and danger. When he makes an account of his varied skills, he reckons himself deficient in only two categories: managing his emotions and his business. His fishing guide business has fallen on hard times and the repo man is after Bama's seaplane. The only viable option for keeping the Hemisphere Dancer is to head for the remote region of Kodiak Island, Alaska.

Initially, the unexpected visit of his old girlfriend, Trevor Kane, seeking his assistance on the eve of his departure to Alaska, is an unwelcomed complication. However, he senses that a last chance for happiness is being presented to him, and embarks on a course which will provide new opportunities to prove his love and commitment to Trevor.

Trevor had left Frank six years earlier when her rock star brother, Joe Merchant, took a suicidal leap from a yacht. Frank and Trevor's relationship had deteriorated into a series of fights and flights; then in her grief over her brother's death she broke off with Frank and moved to New Orleans. After six years Trevor receives a bizarre letter from someone who had known Joe years ago and believes that he is still alive. Trevor asks Frank to assist her in reaching Boomstown, a remote Caribbean community, so that she may locate the mysterious letter writer. While their early relationship was troubled by Bama's escapism and poor communication, the mature Frank Bama faces his trials with courage — even his most difficult trial, being emotionally responsive to Trevor.

Frank enjoins the quest to help Trevor as well as his buddy Blanton Meyercord, who is running from the authorities after making an "environmental statement" with some explosives at the filming site of a jet ski commercial. The adventure gets into full swing when a mad killer named Charlie Fabian hijacks Frank's plane, and a sinister Colonel Cairo, who once mentored Joe Merchant as a would-be mercenary, plots to kill Trevor in his pursuit of the Kane family fortune. As an action adventure novel there is no shortage of violence and the pace is quick. To its credit, farcical characters and storylines are interwoven, giving the story a lighter, humorous tone.

One of the highlights of the novel is Frank Bama's narrative of the region from a sea pilot's point of view, detailing the physical Caribbean environment, waterways, reefs, fishing, and weather patterns. The knowledge of local lore and history which Bama has amassed during his career as a charter pilot provides a framework for understanding island culture. Both the social and geographical settings depict many of the transitions and influences which have shaped the modern Caribbean. The impact of the tourist industry, business exploitation, and the arrival of satellite dish television have dramatically changed the face of paradise. One island town featured in the novel is quickly transformed by the arrival of an American sponge company. However, when the company's president suddenly dies, the young corporation abruptly shuts down and the town soon reverts to its former character. A black Cadillac convertible, once owned by the sponge magnate and the only automobile on the island, becomes the property of an island preacher and then is passed on to his brother who paints it pink and hoists it up on stilts above his bar. What had been an emblem of industry and prosperity in a white man's possession quickly becomes an emblem of relaxation and whimsy in an islander's. The islanders maintain a "roll with the punches" attitude, not taking their economic swings too seriously.

In a similar vein, Buffett's asides reveal his grief over the unbridled development of Key West. He harkens back to simpler times, before the 1970s, when Key West was genuinely the bad boys' playground, home to all breeds of social expatriates and renegades. Now he bemoans its transition from paradise to a tourist spot where visitors come to drink in the ambiance of a way of life that's no longer present. The novel also makes plain his environmental concerns regarding the carnage of the coast and the habitats of wild life. In true Buffett style he employs the tale of the Jet Ski Killer, a.k.a. Blanton Meyercord to voice his anger at the reckless misuse of the environment. Blanton is an appropriate voice for protest; he is no Northern liberal newcomer looking for a cause, but an authentic Floridian, a local guy who makes his living as a fishing guide. He has spent his life in partnership with the marine life, and reacts with explosive rage when outsiders exploit and maim the environment that is a central part of his life.

Literary Precedents

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 126

Buffett has been strongly influenced by literary figures such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and his brother-in-law, novelist Tom McGuane. In recent years he has enjoyed the works of Bruce Chatwin, thus Buffett's playful use of myth and magic in Where Is Joe Merchant? may reflect some of Chatwin's and Marquez's influence.

The action scenes were compared by Entertainment Weekly to Robert Ludlum's work. Further comparison with Ludlum can be made in Buffett's villains, the renegade demagogue, Colonel Cairo and the lost soul with the bizarre tattoos on his eyelids, Charlie Fabian, though neither are quite as malevolent as Ludlum's creations. The comedic elements also set Where Is Joe Merchant? apart from more intense action/suspense novels.

Adaptations

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 166

The significance of Tales from Margaritaville and Where Is Joe Merchant? is tied directly to Jimmy Buffett's popularity as a musician and his impact on the music industry. The books, written primarily as entertainment for his fans, are full of references to Buffett's lyrics, expanding on characters and themes which originated in his music. Tales from Margaritaville is especially valuable for a serious Buffett aficionado seeking deeper insight into the singer's imagination and life. Students of popular culture will want to note the interplay between Buffett's books, music and the music culture of the last two decades. However, the most fascinating aspect of Buffett's work is his creation of the Margaritaville ambiance which has stimulated the popularity of margaritas, Caribbean music, Key West, and beach-style hedonism.

These works should not be overlooked by those interested in the Caribbean and Gulf Coast regional fiction, as they provide some vivid glimpses of life along the Gulf Coast and suggest that the spirit of Margaritaville is not purely concocted.

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