This book is more than it appears. It is a story about the obsession of one man, but Susan Orlean sneaks in the history of collecting orchids, the ecological history of Florida, a brief history of the Seminoles in Florida, and a smattering of mini-biographies in Florida's botanical world. She puts her heart into the book and her funny bone. This is a great read.
First off, "Orchid Fever," which treats orchidomania in a similar fashion, is less draggy and repetitive than this otherwise informative book -- especially as it pertains to the tedious repetition of Latinate names or details of Floridian woodland and bog. What really sent me over the edge, however, was the narration: Jennifer Jay Myers, whose only SA performance this is, inflects sentences -- especially those expressing surprise or climax, or slangy constructions (e.g., "He was one creepy dude.") -- in loopy and annoying Midwestern teenager-ese (Think 1950s "Golly-gee-wow, Mom!"). Many were the times I wanted to pull the car over and...oh, never mind.
Orlean succeeds in painting a fascinating picture of John Laroche. She is just superb in bringing her characters to life on the page, but the great majority of her book is devoted to information on orchids and orchid growers. Unless you are very interested in orchids, I would recommend that you just see this movie.
This highly original true story could be called Beauty and the Beast. Take a sophisticated female writer for the New Yorker magazine and add one weird dude copping illegal orchids in a government-protected Florida swamp and you have this book. It could also be titled 'Raiders of the Lost Ghost Orchid.' Writer Susan Orlean finds the uber plant man, John Laroche, a fascinating puzzle and slowly she becomes almost addicted to his high manic energy. In the end she claims all she wants from this life to to be able to care as much about something as flower fanatics do. She searches one more time in the muggy root-snarled swamp for the ever elusive Ghost Orchid and finds that she doesn't care QUITE as much as she had hoped. The audiobook is engrossing but longish. The 2006 movie was okay (it did tack on a ridiculous ending) but I liked hearing the author read her own words.
An absolutely fascinating history of many aspects of Florida including land speculation and orchid growing. If you haven't seen the movie based on this book called "Adaptation" be sure to see it.
SUSAN ORLEAN, a staff writer at "The New Yorker", is the author of four books, including "The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People."