Pearsall's Books

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Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Florida Short Reviews, Part One

Carl Hiassen Kick Ass

Carl Hiaassen is perhaps the most famous chronicler of modern life in South Florida. His hilarious satirical novels involve a technicolor circus gallery of corrupt politicians, rapacious developers, narco-traffickers, perverts, junkies, renegade ex-Governors, fishing fanatics, rogue televangelists, criminals, sleazy lawyers, gormless tourists, doddering retirees, garden variety losers, the unclassifiably weird, and actual normal humans, amongst others. If you have little knowledge of Miami and its surrounding areas his books seem to exist in a fantastical creative universe. Then you read Kick Ass, a compilation of the cream of his 1985-1999 columns from his other job as columnist for The Miami Herald, and you realize that real life in Florida is so impossibly, floridly, flavorsomely bizarre that Mr. Hiaassen must have real difficulties coming up with scenarios to match the subjects of his newspaper columns for sheer strangeness.

Like all great local journalists, Hiaassen's columns use a combination of a very common sense moral framework and a gift for razor-sharp turns of phrase to give eloquent voice to the concerns of ordinary people. Completely fearless, and intensely dissatisfied with the status quo, Hiaassen's Kick Ass, like all great compilations of newspapers columns, is the sort of book that you can turn to over and over, re-reading one or two favorite columns as the mood takes you. Covering the years between 1985 and 1999 it is subdivided by subject, with most of it devoted to Hiaassen's major concerns: the ongoing destruction of South Florida's environment, the grotesquely corrupt local brand of politics, and the chaos that has resulted from Florida's population surging at a rate three times that of the country as a whole over the last three decades. Despite the glitzy image of Miami Beach, with its superclubs, Art Deco buildings, dazzling beaches, visiting celebrities, and its crowds of the silicone-enhanced, Miami is a place with serious problems, with one of the highest poverty rates of any American city, a massive crime rate, infrastructure that is falling apart at the seams, deep ethnic tensions, and such serious corruption and waste that these problems rarely get better, merely compound. In the finest tradition of muckraking journalism Hiaassen pulls no punches in going after those who bear the most responsibility for this state of affairs, savagely attacking the developers and politicians and corporate interests who run Miami.

"You just cover a lot of ground and you do it aggressively and you do it fairly and you don't play favorites and you don't take any prisoners. It's the old school of slash-and-burn metropolitan column writing. You just kick ass. That's what you do. And that's what they pay you to do."

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