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Swamp Story

A Novel

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About The Book

Pulitzer Prize–winning and New York Times bestselling author—and actual Florida Man—Dave Barry returns with a “hilariously funny” (Steve Martin) caper full of oddballs and more twists and turns than a snake slithering away from a gator.

Jesse Braddock is trapped in a tiny cabin deep in the Everglades with her infant daughter and her ex-boyfriend, a wannabe reality TV star who turned out to be a lot prettier on the outside than on the inside. Broke and desperate for a way out, Jesse stumbles across a long-lost treasure, which could solve all her problems—if she can figure out how to keep it. The problem is some very bad men are also looking for the treasure, and they know Jesse has it.

Meanwhile, Ken Bortle of Bortle Brothers Bait and Beer has hatched a scheme to lure tourists to his failing store by making viral videos of the “Everglades Melon Monster.” The Monster is, in fact, an unemployed alcoholic newspaperman named Phil wearing a Dora the Explorer costume head. Incredibly, this plan actually works, inspiring a horde of TikTokers to swarm into the swamp in search of the Monster at the same time villains are on the hunt for Jesse’s treasure. Amid this mayhem, a presidential hopeful arrives in the Everglades to start his campaign. Needless to say, it does not go as planned. In fact, nothing in this story goes as planned. This is, after all, Florida.


Chapter 1 Chapter 1
“Slater!” Jesse yelled. “Get out here! There’s a snake!”

Jesse threw down her book and snatched Willa off the beach towel where she’d been dozing. The snake was maybe twenty-five feet away. It had slid silently around the side of the cabin. It looked huge to Jesse, its long, thick body covered with brown blotches, its triangular head an arrow pointing at her and her baby. Jesse knew it was a python. She’d seen pythons out here before. But none this big.


No answer from the cabin.

“Slater, there’s a snake out here!”

Still no answer.

“SLATER! There’s a very large snake! Please get out here right now!”

“Hang on.” Slater’s voice, drifting out through the open doorway, was hoarse, as if he had just taken a massive hit off a bong, which in fact he had.

The snake glided a few feet forward into the clearing, directly toward Jesse and Willa. Jesse wanted to run to the cabin, but that would mean running toward the snake. Clutching Willa, she backed up several steps, to the edge of the clearing, next to a live oak. If she stepped back any more, she’d be wading barefoot in the mucky, murky waters of the Everglades, which she knew contained both snakes and alligators, and God knew what else.

The snake slid a little closer.


“Jesus Christ all RIGHT.”

Slater appeared in the doorway, blinking, unsteady, clearly baked. His eyes were bright red; his hair, unwashed for weeks, hung in long greasy strands. He wore a filthy pair of cut-off University of Florida sweatpants, nothing else. Yet he still looked better than 99.999 percent of all human males who had ever walked the Earth. He was strikingly handsome in a classic Tom Cruise—in–his–prime way—thick, jet-black hair; brilliant green eyes; high cheekbones; square jaw. He was tall, a foot taller than Cruise, and his body, despite the fact that he never seemed to do anything for it, was spectacular—lean, muscular and sculpted, the body of an elite athlete in peak condition. Even in that moment, with a major snake threatening her and her baby, Jesse could not help but be aware, in some small sector of her consciousness, that Slater, sweaty, filthy and glassy-eyed from weed, was without question the hottest man she had ever seen.

Which is why she’d ended up out here in the Everglades with him and their baby. And ninety trillion mosquitoes. And no money.

And this snake.

“Where is it?” said Slater.

Jesse pointed.

“Jesus Christ,” said Slater, eyes widening. He called back into the cabin. “Kark! You need to get this!”

“What?” said a voice, as hoarse as Slater’s, maybe hoarser.

“Big fucking snake,” said Slater. “I mean big.”

The snake slid forward another two feet, directly toward Jesse and Willa. Jesse saw that she now no longer had the option of even trying to run past it.

“Slater!” she said, trying to keep the panic out of her voice, not wanting Willa to pick up on it.

Slater held up his hands in a Calm down gesture.

“It’s cool,” he said. “This’ll be good. Good footage.”

“Good footage?” said Jesse. “Are you—”

“Goddammit, Kark,” yelled Slater, “get the camera out here!”

“OKOKOK,” said Kark, emerging from the cabin, holding the video camera. He looked as bad as Slater looked good. He wore only boxer shorts, once white, now a multicolored mess of brownish-yellowish stains of God only knew what origin, the waistband hidden under the overhang of his vast, pasty, drooping belly. Kark’s eyes—small bloodshot orbs in a big moon face—darted around the clearing.

“Where is it?” he said.

“There,” said Slater, pointing.

“Holy shit,” said Kark.

“I know!” said Slater. “You ready?”

“Yeah,” said Kark, raising the camera to his face. “So what’re you gonna do?”

Slater frowned, studying the snake. As he did, it glided another couple of feet closer to Jesse and Willa. It was now about ten feet away from them. Jesse inched back, her feet now in the water, sinking into the muck.

“Slater!” she shouted. “DO something!” Willa, startled by her mother’s voice, began to cry.

“OKOK,” said Slater. To Kark he said, “Make sure you get this.” He took a cautious step toward the snake. Kark, with the camera to his eye, followed, belly jiggling as he moved.

The snake was still looking at Jesse and Willa.

Slater, with Kark right behind, took another small step. He was now about the same distance from the snake as it was from Jesse and Willa.

“Shoo,” he said to the snake.

The snake did not appear to notice.

“Shoo?” said Jesse. “Shoo?

“Fuck,” said Kark, looking at the camera. “The battery’s dead.”

“You’re kidding me,” said Slater.

“Be right back,” said Kark, waddling toward the cabin. “Don’t do anything.”

The snake slid forward another foot.

“SLATER!” yelled Jesse, stepping back, now up to her knees in the swamp. “YOU NEED TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS SNAKE.”

“Hang on,” said Slater. “We have to change the battery.”

“Where’s the other battery?” yelled Kark, from inside the cabin.

“It was next to the cooler,” said Slater.

“I don’t see it.”

“Jesus Christ,” said Slater, heading back to the cabin.

“SLATER!” yelled Jesse.

“Just hold still,” Slater answered. “I’ll be right back.” He disappeared through the doorway.

The snake slid forward. It was now less than five feet away from Jesse. Clutching Willa, she took another step back into the murky water, her legs sinking deeper into the muck. She realized she was about to become stuck there.


“One sec!”

The snake was at the edge of the water now, its massive body stretching halfway across the clearing behind it. Jesse tried to step back, struggling against the sucking swamp mud. She felt her right leg brush against something sharp. She glanced down, saw it was a fallen live oak branch, the tip sticking out of the water. She shifted Willa to her left arm, reached down, grabbed it and yanked. It didn’t move.

“Dammit,” she said. She shifted her weight and yanked the branch harder. It made a cracking sound and broke free. Jesse looked up and saw that the snake was close enough that she could touch it. She raised the branch and slammed it down as hard as she could on the snake’s head.

“GO AWAY,” she shouted.

“One sec!” Slater yelled from the cabin. “We found the battery.”

“GO AWAY GO AWAY GO AWAY!” shouted Jesse, striking the snake’s snout over and over. Willa was screaming now. Jesse braced herself, ready to dive backward into the swamp if the snake lunged at her.

But it didn’t. Instead, it turned its head away from the pesky branch and glided, unhurriedly, to the side of the clearing, then disappeared into the tall sawgrass.

Jesse, struggling, pulled her feet from the sucking, stinking muck and stumbled forward onto firm ground. She fell to her knees, gasping and clutching her baby, who was still crying.

“It’s OK, Willa,” Jesse said, fighting her own tears.

As she knelt there, trying to calm herself and her baby, Slater emerged from the cabin, followed by Kark with the camera.

“Where is it?” said Slater, looking around. “Jess, where’s the snake?”

Jesse, still trying to catch her breath, waved toward the edge of the clearing.

“Shit!” said Slater. He turned to Kark. “We finally get a fucking python and you have a dead fucking battery!”

Kark, from behind the camera, said, “Maybe it’s still there.”

Slater, with Kark trailing, walked across the clearing. He stopped at the edge and looked at the thick wall of sawgrass.

“Is this where it went?” he asked Jesse.

She glared at him. “Why don’t you go in there and see?”

Slater looked back at Kark, who had the camera to his eye. “You getting this?”

Kark nodded.

Slater took a small step forward, parted the sawgrass with his arms and peered ahead for a few seconds.

“It’s gone,” he announced.

Jesse snorted.

Slater, ignoring her, faced the camera, frowning.

“We just missed it,” he said. “A Burmese python, easily fifteen feet. A deadly predator, fully capable of killing a man and swallowing him whole. It could be anywhere out here. It’s a risk we take every day, living the life of the Glades Guy.”

“Man,” said Kark.

“What?” said Slater.

“It’s Glades Man,” said Kark. “Not Glades Guy.”

“You don’t think Glades Guy sounds better? The two ‘G’ sounds?”

“Yeah, but they’re called gladesmen.”

“Who is?”

“The guys who live out here.”

“Who calls them that?”

“They call themselves that. Everybody calls them that. That’s how I pitched it to the network. If we sell the show it’s gonna be called Glades Man.”

Slater shrugged. “OK, then. Glades Man. You still recording?”


“OK, we’ll just pick it up from where I don’t see the snake.”

Slater faced the sawgrass, then turned dramatically back to the camera, frowning in an effort to convey disappointment. “We just missed it,” he said. “A Burmese python, probably twenty feet long. A deadly predator that can kill a grown man and swallow him whole. It’s just one of the dangers we… we glades men face every single day, out here in the wild and wide-open—”

“Look out!” shouted Jesse. “It’s coming back!”

Slater, emitting a high, nonmasculine sound, jumped toward Kark, knocking him backward. The two of them fell to the dirt, Slater crawling on all fours away from the edge of the clearing.

“Where is it?” he shouted, looking around frantically, his voice still a good two octaves higher than usual.

Then he realized that Jesse was laughing.

And that there was no snake.

“Jesse, what the fuck,” he said, scrambling to his feet. “That was not funny!”

“Oh, you’re wrong there,” said Jesse.

“Do we want to keep this footage?” said Kark, on his butt in the dirt but still holding the camera to his eye.

“No, we fucking don’t want to keep it!” shouted Slater. “Turn it off!”

“OKOK,” said Kark, hitting a button.

For a few seconds the only sound in the clearing was Willa’s whimpering.

“Did you get anything we can use?” Slater asked Kark.

Kark frowned. “Just you looking at the grass where the snake went.”

Slater shook his head. “We need to do better than that. We need something real. Something dangerous.”

“Slater,” said Jesse, “do you even understand what just happened here?”

“Yes, Jess, I do,” he said. “What happened was, we had a chance to get some critical footage that could sell this reality show to the network, and we didn’t get it.”

Jesse shook her head. “No, what happened was, you were so concerned about getting your footage that you left me and your baby alone out here to get attacked by a gigantic snake.”

“Jess, come on, it didn’t attack you,” said Slater. “It went away.”

“IT WENT AWAY BECAUSE I HIT IT,” shouted Jesse. Willa started crying again.

“You did?” said Kark. “You hit it?”

Jesse nodded. “With that.” She pointed to the oak branch.

“Holy shit,” said Kark.

“Jesus, Jess,” said Slater. “Couldn’t you have waited, like, thirty seconds?”

Jesse stared at him. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Well, yeah,” said Slater. “So we could have gotten footage of the snake. Maybe get a shot of me hitting it with the stick.”

“Unbelievable,” said Jesse.

“What?” said Slater.

Ignoring him, Jesse picked up the beach towel and book, then carried Willa to the other side of the clearing. She wished she could just keep walking, all the way out of this festering reptile-and-bug-infested swamp, away from this gorgeous asshole she had foolishly gotten stuck with, away from his idiotic schemes.

But at the moment she had nowhere to go, no money, no plan.

She spread the towel and sat down, comforting Willa.

“It’s OK,” she said, hugging her baby. “Don’t cry. Mommy’s gonna make it better.”

She paused, watching Slater and Kark trudge back into the cabin, where they would undoubtedly spend the rest of the day as they spent every day, getting baked and talking about amazing things they would never actually do. Then she looked back down at her whimpering daughter.

“It’s OK, Willa,” she said. “Mommy’s gonna get us out of here.”

About The Author

Photograph by Michelle Kaufman

Dave Barry is the author of more bestsellers than you can count on two hands, including Lessons from Lucy, Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys, Dave Barry Turns Forty, and Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up. A wildly popular syndicated columnist best known for his booger jokes, Barry won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for commentary. He lives in Miami.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (May 2, 2023)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982191337

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Raves and Reviews

"The funniest thing we've read in years, or maybe just since the last Dave Barry novel." —PEOPLE Magazine

"Before you open this book, ask yourself one important question: How hard do I want to laugh? Because (a) it’s Dave Barry, and (b) it’s Dave Freaking Barry. Of course Swamp Story is about greed, fraud, and viral fame, but there are also big-ass reptiles to keep the sketchiest characters on their toes. Everything that happens in this wild novel could easily happen in South Florida, and probably will. Read it here first. Dave’s version is always the funniest." —Carl Hiaasen

'With Swamp Story, Dave Barry combines two important elements of literature: A swamp and a story."— Steve Martin

“Dave Barry continues his powerful, hypnotic, sway over us readers with this latest, powerful, hypnotic work that is not only hilariously funny, but also powerful and hypnotic.” — ALSO Steve Martin

“I laughed out loud! (to think that Dave would dare publish a book). Yet, this book continues Dave’s streak of humor writing that is the best in the country. Congratulations to Dave and all the lucky readers.” — AGAIN, Steve Martin

“I’m frankly tired of Dave Barry being so funny. Yet, he’s done it again to the benefit and delight of all of us. A hilarious new work.” — STILL Steve Martin

“I haven’t read it yet, but I love it!” — YET AGAIN, Steve Martin

"An authentically rendered distillation of the Sunshine State’s special sensibility. The novel is funny, ridiculous, and even moving—a typical Barry affair....Barry’s crew of misfits is a wild one, but the dual plots he sets in motion are why Swamp Story shines....If you want to read about the state and have fun doing Swamp Story and dive into the Floridian muck. It takes a Florida man to write a proper, ridiculous Florida novel." Washington Examiner

"If you are looking for a silly, inane, ridiculous, hysterically funny and laugh-out-loud read for this summer, I have a book for you! heck of a yarn. Barry is a master of dialogue....If you have ever lived in Florida, wintered in Florida, or even vacationed in Florida, you will appreciate the humor Barry finds in the state. And even if you haven’t been there, you’ll enjoy a good laugh at its expense."Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star

"Get ready to laugh out loud with Dave Barry’s return to fiction, Swamp Story. It’s a hilarious Sunshine-State caper....The Pulitzer Prize-winner and self-described 'Florida Man' always delivers the laughs, and Swamp Story is no exception." Parade

"Dave Barry has been writing about Florida his whole life, yet still finds fresh foolishness in his latest novel, Swamp Story, which whips together melon-headed cryptids, invasive pythons, TikTok stardom and preening politicians to hilarious effect." — Tampa Bay Times

"Larger than life hijinks abound in Swamp Story, the zany thriller from Dave Barry....a hilarious caper that could only happen in Florida. Fans of Barry and Carl Hiaasen will be on the edge of their seats—except when they're rolling on the floor." Shelf Awareness

"Florida’s humorist laureate finds chaos and comedy in the Everglades....Gold bars, pythons, and TikTok videos of swamp monsters add up to a hilarious Florida tale....Barry makes mirth of all this mayhem with his usual aplomb." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Crime fiction doesn’t come much funnier than this Florida-set caper....Barry conducts the hijinks like a maestro of comic suspense. Carl Hiaasen fans will be in heaven." Publishers Weekly

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