Monday, January 5, 2009

Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen - Book Review

Carl Hiaasen loves hypocrisy. He also loves Florida, the wild part fast disappearing and damaged, but lovable characters. He uses these loves to effectively skewer the forces that cooperate in despoiling his native state: developers, politicians, religious zealots, and more. He portrays his damaged and needy characters in impossible situations seeking to accomplish unattainable goals, and they always come out on top. Hiaasen is columnist for the Miami Herald as well as a celebrated novelist. His convoluted plots are completely impossible and wildly plausible. His biting and sardonic humor never ceases to please, although even the most dedicated reader of his work should avoid reading the novels in a binge. They’re better when well-spaced and allowed to ripen

In Nature Girl we meet Honey Santana, a beautiful but unbalanced woman who hears music in her head and has difficulty staying focused. Honey has been sufficiently enraged by a telephone huckster named Boyd Shreve to hatch a plot to bring him from Texas to Florida in order to try to both humiliate him and teach him a lesson. Honey has a twelve year old son, Fry, and an ex-husband, Perry Skinner, who both have a firmer grip on reality. Along the way we meet Hiaasen’s usual cast of strange and wonderful characters. Louis Piejack, whose total inner moral rot manifests itself externally, is one of Hiaasen’s classic degenerates. Sammy Tigertail is half Seminole Indian trying to get in touch with his heritage. As the plot thickens and the characters find themselves brought together on a small, secluded island in the Everglades, the plot thickens, becomes increasingly hilarious, and makes cogent and powerful points about the environment, contemporary culture, and human nature.

For many people who get to Florida, the state is two tourist oriented coasts and a mouse dominated city in the center. (Parenthetically, Hiaasen has written a non-fiction piece called Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World, which I’m eager to get my hands on.) Carl Hiaasen gives readers a state whose beauty is endangered by those who have prospered from qualities the state is losing. Criminal developers, corrupt politicians, avaricious users, and degenerate psychopaths dominate his books. The good guys are often na├»ve idealists driven to distraction, or often beyond, by the depredations inflicted on their beloved state. Another result of these innocents’ interaction with the world is often that they withdraw into depression, mania, or psychopathy. Happily, the characters’ encounters with evil usually result in their own redemption even though little can be done to save Florida. Those of us who, even though fairly new to Florida, have been lucky enough to get opportunities to experience “old” Florida, which still exists in many places in the central part of the state although, sadly, too few along the coasts, can briefly experience the world Hiaasen yearns to resurrect.

Readers who love Florida for more than the beach and the climate can learn from Hiaasen as well as enjoy his writings. His books can be read in any order, because there are few recurring characters and no ongoing plots. I’m glad I was introduced to his writings, by our son Alex, and will continue to read his books as they come out. I recommend them highly. Nature Girl can be obtained at your local bookseller, chain store, or on-line in hard cover, trade paperback, or mass market. If you haven't read Hiaasen, give him a try.