Why Hiaasen?

Currently my energy is invested in binge reading Carl Hiaasen’s work. Hiaasen has written a couple dozen books, mostly fiction, including collections of his newspaper articles, and novels for young readers. He is prodigious, prolific, wonderful and ridiculous. His bad guys are low-life, immoral, greedy and prone to shoddy commercial development of Hiaasen’s beloved home state of Florida. His good guys are often loners of either sex and off the charts smart.

First of all, Hiaasen entertains me. Struggling writers take note. Many of us read to be entertained. Granted, there are those rare students who open a book intending to learn something. But without intending to, I learn from Hiaasen while I’m chuckling over the things that pop up on the page–a prime example, “He was eating a jelly doughnut, the sugar dust sticking to the socks on his hands” (Lucky You, p. 87). In context, the sentence makes sense, but in or out it makes me laugh. And I keep reading, partly to see what happens next to a man with socks on his hands and partly to watch imagination at play. I learn two sorts of things: the man-made damage to the environment in Florida and how a talented writer builds a story.

And, binge reading shows me that he repeatedly writes about major issues of our time–destruction of natural habitat, racism, violence, greed, corrupt government at many levels. But he does not preach. The characters act out his fears and beliefs. He proliferates oddballs distinguishable from each other by appearance (scars, disfigurement, personal hygiene, sex appeal or its lack) and by actions, motivation, and beliefs. Because his good people are flawed but courageous, because his bad people are despicable and deserve the retribution inflicted on them, I keep turning the page.

The environmental underpinnings of much of Hiaasen’s work range from beach erosion to protecting the habitat of burrowing owls and the violence that too often results from lucrative commercial land use. He’s against big agri-business and the influx of organized crime to his home state. He takes on topics that sprout from real situations, although they lurch toward horror and the worst of villains who abuse creatures human and otherwise. Often these sleaze bags suffer horrible but appropriate deaths–eaten by lions, starvation in the Everglades, retribution from meaner people than they ever could have imagined. Guns, knives, ropes, alligators and wolf dogs become tools for cleaning up some of humanities worst mistakes.

I cannot do this body of work justice in one short spurt of words. Please take a large tote bag to the bookstore or public library and fill it with Carl Hiaasen’s books. Clear the calendar, stock up on snacks and take a virtual vacation in Florida. Don’t forget bug spray, your sense of humor and your outrage. You’ll be a better person for it.