Carl Hiaasen


A friend asked me to please blog a book review of Star Island, the latest novel by Carl Hiaasen. While I would love to be able to oblige her, I would never presume to even know how to critique a book. Also, I don’t like to discuss my like or dislike about any art I am “consuming”; in fact, I often cannot pinpoint my feelings about a book (film, music performance, etc) in terms of simply liking and disliking. Aside from the fact that there are varied degrees of enjoyment or nourishment one receives from consuming art, there are also many different types of enjoyment. Hopefully, Lulu will forgive me after that labored explanation.

What I could discuss is why Hiaasen’s writing has been important to me. Hiaasen, along with Dave Barry wrote prolifically for a Sunday magazine insert to the Miami Herald called Tropic magazine in the 70s and 80s. While Barry was his typical goofy self that is his trademark, Hiaasen wrote short stories and non-fiction essays that I could hardly wait to read every weekend. Not only were these works realistic insights into Miami and all it’s political and business corruption, but they also seemed to me to be about “my” Miami, warts and all. This magazine is the only thing I can recall reading in my teenage years other than a little Shakespeare and Steinbeck for school. Tropic magazine also organized a yearly “Tropic Hunt” that to this day is one of the most interesting things I’ve ever participated in. I am not sure if I have my facts straight, but I believe Hiaasen was one of the creators of the Hunt.

The Tropic hunt was part epic scavenger hunt with a little Sherlock Holmes thrown in. Hundreds of people would show up to a location specified in that morning’s Tropic and search for clues using landmarks and happenings in the area coinciding with clues in the magazine. Great, nerdy fun!

When I first started reading Hiaasen’s novels, I did not think much of them. Possibly it was college age snobbery, but in retrospect, I think I was choosing my reading according to certain other criteria outside of his style. I first started enjoying his books while listening to audiobooks on car trips. Right away I noticed that the locations where scenes were set resembled the more backwood areas within and outside of Miami where I spent most of my teenage years, hiding from reality. I especially loved that Skink lived in the mangroves near Card Sound Road bridge, exactly one of my get-away-from-it-all places. A mangrove swamp is very difficult to get around in or sit in any one spot. Here is a completely different world, a subtly beautiful enviroment usually teeming with tiny, and unique wildlife. And the quiet.. it almost seems as if the sounds are not allowed in past the perimeter of the tree line and even the sounds one makes seems to disappear immediately into the sulfurous-smelling mud. By the way, I lost that thing that teenagers lose on the edge of a mangrove swamp.

What was I supposed to be writing about? I am being interrupted often and also daydreaming. Hiassen, yes.

I really enjoyed Star Island as I will often enjoy movies set in South Florida. My cynical side often felt like it was written with the intention of being adaptable to a movie, but that shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a negative. I love how he can make me feel Miami in the story, and not the obvious cheesy, touristy side that is so often showed on film and television. His characters, of course, are hilarious and seem to shift in and out of their expected behavior in surprising ways. Okay, I am not liking myself talking this way, I’m going to stop. Read the book, it’s good clean fun.

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4 responses to “Carl Hiaasen

  1. You are SO forgiven, Miguel.

    I am honoured that Carl and I are in the same paragraph! And that you have more than honoured my request. You make me want to re-read all of Carl plus find out about that Tropical Treasure Hunt.

    Carl has always managed to put me in that tropical mood that you define so beautifully. The world away. The quiet, the muck, the wildlife, & smells of natural decay, plus nowhere to sit! Although somehow we managed. The mangrove swamps of Northern Queensland also saw a little “Lulu –action” (I shall say no more) 😀

    Carl has always been able to merge the beauty of the natural, innocent outdoors with the insanity that is Broward County. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, the Governor who decided to drain the Everglades (thanks Skink)

    And now I have put Alabama Jack’s (Card Sound Road) & an Airboat ride thru’ the Everglades (maybe with somebody really cool at the helm) back on my must-go-to List.

    Your memories make me smile fondly. Can’t ask for more.

    Thanks Miguel.

    • Thanks so much for reading it and for giving me the idea to write about Hiaasen. I wrote it weeks ago, and thought you hated it so much that you didn’t comment. Glad to have you back, my friend.

  2. I can’t believe that you lost your homework at the edge of a mangrove.

    I love this approach to a book review. I come away wanting to read the book and feeling I know a bit more about you. Thank you for sharing this story. I loved it.

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