Friday, December 15, 2006

Title: Nature Girl
Author: Carl Hiaasen
Published: 2006, Knopf
Category: General Fiction
Rating: 8/10

Carl Hiaasen is an author whose books are unlike anything else I read. I tend to go for my "nice" romances or mysteries. Hiaasen's books are gritty and cynical by comparison. They're sort of mysteries, but I think I'd label them more satire than anything else. He just likes to make fun of ridiculous, greedy people--and he is so funny. I have to be in just the right mood, but when I'm there I love his books.

His plots are so twisted and strange that they're hard to explain. Before I started this one, I asked a friend who had just finished it what it was about. She looked at me, disconcerted, and finally just said, "Shenanigans." And that's exactly what they are! But I'll try my best for a brief synopsis.

Honey Santana is just sitting down to dinner with her son when they are interrupted by a telemarketer call. Like most people, she is extremely annoyed by hearing a sales pitch while she'd like to be having a pleasant meal. Honey, who is not the most mentally stable, decides to get even with the telemarketer. She figures out who he is, calls him at home, and convinces him that she's a realtor giving out free trips to Florida for people who will come down to listen to a sales pitch. Boyd Shreave decides a free trip to a Bahamas-like destination will be just the thing for him and his mistress. When Boyd and the mistress arrive, Honey takes them on a kayaking trip to an island called Dismal Key. This is no caribbean getaway--it's a swampy island in the most desolate area of the Everglades. They're followed there by a private eye hired by Boyd's wife to get evidence of Boyd's infidelity; Honey's ex-boss who is infatuated with her and now a crazed stalker; and Honey's ex-husband and son, who are worried about Honey. This crazy cast of characters gets into all kinds of trouble running around the deserted island.

Last month I went to a Carl Hiaasen reading/signing that was really interesting. He was talking about how he never outlines his stories and generally doesn't know how they're going to end until at least half-way through writing. He said that if he can see exactly where the story is going, then it's too boring. He creates these completely zany characters and just lets them bounce off one another. Pretty amazing that his stories come out so polished and cohesive.

Anyway, he's a fantastic writer. Everyone always talks about an author's "voice" and sometimes I don't know what the hell they're on about. But with Hiaasen, I get it. That wry, cynical humor is unique, I think. I laughed my ass off on this one. Seeing the idiotic schmuck of a telemarketer get caught up in such a fiasco is priceless. Cathartic, too.
If the trip continued on its present downward trajectory, the dimension of this particular failure would dwarf all the others in Shreave's lackluster past. As usual he deflected both blame and responsibility; cruel chance had imbedded him here--stranded on a scraggly island with a psychotic divorcee, an increasingly unresponsive girlfriend and a half-barbecued cock. [He's accidentally shot himself in the groin with a Taser. ROFLMAO.]
Whenever you run up against some pathetic example of humanity and start to worry about the state of the human race, it's time to read some Carl Hiaasen to remember that at least you can always laugh about it.


T. Allan Smith said...

Hiaasen says he doesn't have to make up the characters in his books. There are enough strange people running around South Florida that he just has to read the newspaper.

jmc said...

There was a piece on Hiaasen, including an interview out on his boat in Miami (or the Keys, maybe) by 60 Minutes earlier this fall. He seemed like a fascinating, thoughtful individual.

Dance Chica said...

I'm so glad you reviewed this because I've been seeing a lot of Carl Hiaasen's books lately and was thinking about buying one, but wasn't sure if it'd be my thing. Now I'll definitely pick one up. These sound so funny and I love satires. Great review! Gonna put this one my wishlist. As for Hiaasen, some people are just so creative and talented, aren't they?

Jennie said...

T. Allan--So why is that? Does the heat fry your brains or what? :)

JMC--He seemed really cool at the signing I went to. Very self-deprecating about his work and very funny. He's a big environmentalist too, which makes me like him even more.

dance chica--You should definitely give him a shot. If you want to try him in PB first, I also really liked Skinny Dip and Basketcase.