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Richie's Picks: FLUSH
on October 1, 2005
IN the spring of 2002 I wrote about Carl Hiaasen's first children's book, HOOT:
"Carl Hiaasen does an incredible job of showing the different styles of activism that different people resort to. He presents the reader with the contemporary clash of free enterprise versus global ecological issues. He has a lot to say between the lines about parenting, and he has some great insights into the methods of dealing with bullies.
"I've never read his adult books, but I sure hope Hiaasen writes more books for kids. HOOT is one heck of a first step into the world of children's literature."
So I was, of course, ecstatic that both the 2003 Newbery committee and 2003 Best Books for Young Adults committee recognized HOOT.
I was somewhat less thrilled about having to wait three long years for the pleasure of reading a second children's book by Hiaasen. And while FLUSH is a completely different story, everything that delighted me three years ago about reading HOOT is equally applicable to FLUSH.
"The deputy told me to empty my pockets: two quarters, a penny, a stick of bubble gum, and a roll of grip tape for my skateboard. It was pitiful.
" 'Go on inside. He's waiting for you,' the deputy said.
"My dad was sitting alone at a bare metal table. He looked pretty good, all things considered. He wasn't even handcuffed.
" 'Happy Father's Day,' I said.
"He stood up and gave me a hug. 'Thanks, Noah,' he said."
So begins FLUSH, the story of what happens after Paine Underwood pulls the plug on the Coral Queen and willingly gets arrested for doing so.
The Coral Queen is a three-tiered casino boat owned by Dusty Muleman. Dusty has been making a killing off of the boat's operations because he worked a deal with the local Native Americans to park the boat in a marina on their lands, give them a cut of the take and, thus, avoid having to take the customers a few miles offshore to gamble like all the other casino boat operators are required to do. What Noah's dad is so hot about is that he is sure that the raw sewage periodically washing up on Thunder Beach is the result of the Coral Queen's holding tanks being emptied illegally into the water.
A 60 Minutes piece about the author that was broadcast last month, "Florida: 'A Paradise of Scandals' "[...] introduces Hiaasen:
"In a little less than a century, the state of Florida has been transformed from a largely uninhabited swamp to the fourth-largest state in the union. And no one has written about that transformation more successfully than Carl Hiaasen.
"Part humorist, part muckraker, his satirical novels about greed, crime and corruption in the Sunshine State have become fixtures on the best-seller list and embraced by influential literary critics who compare him to Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken.
"He is also an award-winning children?s author and a former investigative reporter-turned-columnist for the Miami Herald.
"And he has made a career of documenting, analyzing and interpreting what may be the most bizarre state in the union -- and one, Hiaasen says, is 'a victim of its own geography.' "
In the 60 Minutes interview Hiaasen talked about how being out on the water in his skiff is like church for him. In that regard, reading FLUSH feels like you are peering in even closer at the heart of Carl Hiaasen.
When I discussed HOOT three years ago, I mentioned that it contained humor, a bit of sadness, and a touch of suspense. All three qualities are once again present in FLUSH. So are the wildly quirky characters, from the bully (Jasper Muleman Jr.), to the brute (Luno), to the buxom blonde (Shelly), the bum (Lice Peeking), the bumbling attorney (Mr. Shine), and the mysterious pirate.
Carl Hiaasen is a master at storytelling. That he has utilized his superb talents to once again write a satirical novel about greed, crime and corruption in the Sunshine State for children (and me) is cause for celebration.