Carl Hiaasen’s “Nature Girl”

Carl Hiassen has reinvented the screwball comedy for the 21st century, stocking it with a collection of misfits, idiots, sexed-up women (some with a few screws loose as well), Indians who live with and outside an American culture that can revere nature as it despoils it, and whose temptations of the flesh — and I’m including five-star hotels, wide-screen HDTVs and “The Sopranos” on DVD in the mix — are available at the cost of your soul. It’s Hotel California on the Everglades.

Carl Hiaasen

I liked his latest novel, “Nature Girl” more than “Skinny Dip.” His heroine in that one was too perfect, and most of the book meandered through a revenge fantasy that was pretty listless. Hiaasen doesn’t make the same mistake this time. The center of this book is Honey Santana. True, like most of Hiaasen’s women, she’s a free-spirited single mother, but this one’s a nutcase. Oh, she can work a job and raise her son, Fry, who at 13 is growing up fast trying to keep her mother sane, but she’s possibly bi-polar, hears two songs in her head at the same time and has dumped her meds in the toilet.

So when a telemarketer cusses her out, Santana cooks up an elaborate plot to teach the guy a lesson by luring him to Florida for an ecotour of the swampy islands by kayak. But she’s not the only one heading for the wetlands. Honey’s being tracked by her former boss, the odious Piejack — imagine Louie DePalma crossed with Travis Bickle — who will do anything to make her his. There’s Sammy Tigertail, the half-Cherokee who’s looking for an island to hide on after a tourist croaks of snakebite on his boat and he decides to dump the evidence with the help of several anchors. Despite the tourist coming back to haunt him, he’s more disturbed by the college girl he’s forced to take hostage who doesn’t seem to want to let go of the hunky Indian.

Not to mention the private eye hoping to get a shot of the telemarketer doing the nasty with his mistress.

With its mix of comedy, character and sex, “Nature Girl” is one of the funniest novels I’ve read in a long time.

Score: 92 

Genre: 14
Realism: 13
Character: 15
Setting: 14
Theme: 13
Style: 14
Bonus: 9

What does these numbers mean?
Other links to “Nature Girl”

  • Carl Hiaasen’s Official Website
  • John Leland purred his way through the book but “found myself wishing for something a little more … excessive” at The New York Times.
  • Alan Michael Parker at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution thought it wasn’t one of Hiaasen’s best but worth a hoot.