Carl Hiaasen’s ‘Dance Of The Reptiles’: Like His Novels But A Little Less Fictiony
Mystery fans know Carl Hiaasen for the likes of Strip Tease and Tourist Season, brutally improbable yarns of one-eyed governors solving real estate murder crimes made plausible by their meticulous south Florida settings. Like the surreal, hard-living Harlem of Chester Himes and the bleak, no-exit Philadelphia of David Goodis, Hiaasen’s Florida is a bright nihilistic cul-de-sac the reader takes on narrative faith. After two decades’ worth of surreal news stories out of the Sunshine State, the public is primed for pretty much any kink of plot or backdrop.
Readers of the Miami Herald know Hiaasen as a local variant on the kind of opinionated blood-and-thunder political journalist that began to fade from the national scene before the final shovel of dirt hit the last Alsop brother. Unlike the pundits and paid bloviators of today, Hiaasen understands his subject is a cruel joke and insists the reader take it that way. Hiaasen’s venom is remarkable and remarkably restrained given the inhuman provocation offered by pill mills, British Petroleum and Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which he was denouncing as an NRA fantasy as long ago as 2005.
Dance of the Reptiles retrieves a decade of these fulminations from dumpster and landfill, with the whole 398 pages a useful corrective against the kind of bloggy hysterics that taints much current political writing.
Hiaasen has sport with the Miami Cannibal (“Even some New Yorkers I know, who read daily about strange and violent events in their own zip code, expressed the view that South Florida would’ve been their first guess for as the location for a nude face-eating incident”), Gov. Rick Scott (“Has Florida finally elected a certifiable wack job as governor?”), the state’s pathetic hurricane preparedness (“Stock up on Prozac”), disintegrating future prospects (“Without fresh meat for the housing market, Florida basically hasn’t got an economy”), famously idiotic elections (“Amendment 3 [is] so dense and confusing that it might as well have been transcribed in Slovenian”) and dozens more without once devolving into rhetorical spittle or coded outrage. As a kind of lone sniper in a target-rich landscape, Hiaasen has little need for anger and less inclination to personalize his quarry.
Non-Floridians might laugh such micro-Swiftian satires off as Alligator Gothic but for the slow-motion collapse of Chris Christie’s chances for the next G.O.P. presidential nomination. Blowback from the wreckage already nudges Jeb Bush forward as a near-inevitable choice for the mainstream Republicans fearful of Tea Party fruitbats like Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin, despite what his mother might think. Wide circulation of Hiaasen’s takes on some of Brother Jeb’s gubernatorial gaffes – like his “education” from promoters of a dubious Bahamas-to-Florida oil pipeline scheme (p. 76) and flailing attempts at election reform that made the state’s elections easier to game (pp. 276-78) – could turn the columnist into whatever passes for a superstar over at MSNBC. Since this is about the worst fate imaginable for a serious crime novelist, pulp fans ought to root for Huckabee.
Dance of the Reptiles: Selected Columns