Southern Lit Review: "Nature Girl," Carl Hiaasen

I’m an idiot. The biggest sporting event in the world is coming to South Florida (the Super Bowl, for my too comics-obsessed readers), and I just left Miami Beach. But it was good while it lasted. I spent several January afternoons hanging by the pool, surfing my way through Carl Hiaasen’s latest, Nature Girl.

I can’t be remotely objective about Hiaasen; the guy completely reshaped the way I look at (and write) literature. He’s witty, funny, lushly descriptive, openly agenda-driven, and eminently readable — five categories that you’ll hardly ever find applied together to most post-World War II literary elites. He may not have created the wacky-Florida-crime genre, but he brought it to the mainstream. Plus, he’s counted among his friends Warren Zevon and Jimmy Buffett, which makes him a lot cooler than any writer this side of Hunter S. Thompson has any right to be.

His latest, Nature Girl, is classic Hiaasen. We’ve got the classic semi-psychotic independent single mother, the unreflective sleazebag, two hotties, a precocious kid, a sex-addled stinking lump of a man, and a goofball half-white Seminole Indian. They all get slammed together in the Everglades’ Ten Thousand Islands, and gunplay, sex, and murder result.

The plot? Really, it doesn’t matter, any more than the “plot” of a rollercoaster. But if you must — Honey Santana, the single mom, gets an insulting phone call from telemarketer/sleazebag Boyd Shreave. She invites Shreave and his ladyfriend to Florida under the guise of selling them Everglades property; on the journey out there, they run into Sammy Tigertail (the half-white Seminole, formerly known as Chad McQueen) and a Florida State coed (also a Seminole) who’s attached herself to Sammy like a horny barnacle. They’re also getting chased by Louis Piejack, a lust-addled fishmonger who got several fingers nipped off by stone crabs and then reattached — in the wrong places.

Sound good? It’s some bizarre stuff, definitely, requiring a particular sense of humor. Hiaasen doesn’t translate well to other media, but that’s probably a good thing — he’s best taken in immersive form. While Nature Girl may not be his best — there’s a bit of get-t0-the-point,-Carl that starts to creep in in the last 50 pages — it’s still Hiaasen, and I’m still there for it. Check him out for yourself.

Jay

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