July 27, 2008

Review of Nature Girl

Carl Hiaasen's novels are always fun. This one features a Seminole Indian struggling with his heritage.

Nature Girl (Paperback)From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Old fans and newcomers alike should delight in Hiaasen's 11th novel (after 2004's Skinny Dip), another hilarious Florida romp. The engaging and diverse screwball cast includes Boyd Shreave, a semicompetent telemarketer; Shreave's mistress and co-worker, Eugenie Fonda; Honey Santana, a mercurial gadfly who ends up on the other end of one of Shreave's pitches for Florida real estate; and Sammy Tigertail, half Seminole, who at novel's start must figure out what to do with the body of a tourist who dies of a heart attack on Sammy's airboat after being struck by a harmless water snake. When Santana cooks up an elaborate scheme to punish Shreave for nasty comments he made during his solicitation call, she ends up involving her 12-year-old son, Fry, and her ex-husband in a frantic chase that enmeshes Tigertail and the young co-ed Sammy accidentally has taken hostage. While the absurd plot may be less than compelling, Hiaasen's humorous touches and his all-too-human characters carry the book to its satisfying close.

From AudioFile

Carl Hiaasen fills his novels with some of the strangest characters in fiction--and makes them work. NATURE GIRL is set in the Florida beyond Miami and Disney World, where people like Honey Santana and half-Seminole Sammy Tigertail live quiet, peculiar existences. Night telemarketer Boyd Shreave has insulted Honey with a real estate phone pitch, and she plots a bizarre revenge that brings the three characters together.
Comment:  I've read five Hiaasen novels so far and they've all been entertaining. Here's how I rate them:

Lucky You--8.0
Strip Tease--8.0
Sick Puppy--8.0
Skinny Dip--7.5
Nature Girl--8.0

Nature Girl is the first Hiaasen book I've read to offer more than a passing mention of the Seminoles. Sammy Tigertail (the former Chad McQueen) is believably torn between his white side (going to college, dating white girls, playing the guitar) and his Indian side (communing with nature, honoring ancient Colusa warriors, trying to rid himself of a pesky spirit). Hiaasen has done his research and quotes from old texts about Seminole history and culture.

As the book got underway, I thought it might be an 8.5. By the end it had settled into an 8.0. Hiaasen puts eight protagonists and one antagonist on a deserted island near the Everglades. To make things work, he has to remove a few characters and ignore one at the story's climax. Some of the character arcs are less satisfying than others.

Still, Nature Girl is at least as good as Hiaasen's other books. If you haven't read any of his novels, give 'em a try. You'll probably be amused.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Books.

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