By Diane Roberts (Free Press, 355 pages)
It gets wearying, having author after commentator after tourist continually prattle on about what Florida's really all about. To them, this state is little more than a bunch of ignorant hicks, crazy old Jews and migrant fruit-pickers, all bundled up in a package of suburban strip malls, bad growth-management, mouse ears and political corruption. It gets incredibly wearying when it's Florida natives echoing these stereotypes. Roberts, a well-regarded journalist and native, uses Dream State as a platform to do just that, but she does it in an inventive, nonfiction manner that's not as offensive as the legions of Hiaasen-lites who have been trying to culturally define Florida for the rest of the world. Weaving multiple histories of the state through a first-person narrative that finds her hitting Florida's notable and secret spots, Roberts focuses in on our unshakeable Southernness, our explosive growth, our insane politicians ... just what you'd expect. But Dream State is written from such a clearly affectionate (and bemused) perspective that it's hard to get angry about the picture it paints. After all, it's true; but not all that unexpected.