<B>A son reclaims his father's dream</B> Before he died, Dennis Covington's father, who never earned more than $14,000 in a year, told him: "To my knowledge, no Covington has ever left anything to anybody. I don't intend to be the first." Angered because he had been swindled in the purchase of a sight-unseen plot of worthless Florida land, he then willed the deed to Dennis. Dennis interpreted this departure from family custom as a challenge from the grave: to redeem his inheritance.
Some years later, Covington drove from his Alabama home to take a look at the two and one-half acre parcel. That trip led to a series of harrowing experiences he relates in <B>Redneck Riviera: Armadillos, Outlaws, and the Demise of an American Dream</B>. Unlike other cheated landowners, Covington refused to yield his claim when he found himself encircled by an ornery subculture that endorses the mere notion of "he deserved it" as a justifiable reason for maiming or even slaying another person.
Covington defies gun-toting yahoos and squatters who, with the assent of compliant sheriff's deputies, have denied access to the legal owners and taken over the land as their own. He is greeted by clear messages that he is unwelcome on his own property: his Jeep has been trashed, his crude cabin has been strafed with bullets and its canvas walls slashed, and, as the ultimate warning, a dead armadillo lies on its back in the middle of the floor. Covington, whose <I>Salvation on Sand Mountain</I> was a 1995 National Book Award finalist, excels as a storyteller. Although the pursuit of his father's folly drives his new book, Covington is able to mix the retelling of his mission with happy thoughts about growing up with his family. He reminisces in such an appealing way that some readers probably will be prompted to put the book down for a few minutes and recall tender moments when their own parents counseled them. When a writer inspires a response like that, a reader can't ask for much more. <I>Alan Prince lectures at the University of Miami School of Communication.</I>