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The Downhill Lie: A Hacker's Return to a Ruinous Sport Hardcover – May 6, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hiaasen (Skinny Dip), an admittedly woeful golfer, recounts his clumsy resumption of the game after a 32-year layoff. Why did he take up golf so long after quitting at the age of 20? I'm one sick bastard, he writes. Hiaasen interweaves passages about his return to the game with diary entries covering more than a year and a half on the links. He mixes childhood memories of playing with his father, who died prematurely, with anecdotes, including the time he and a friend ejected an invasion of poisonous toads from his friend's patio with short irons. His analysis of his lessons, hapless rounds and gimmicky golf equipment is hilarious, and his vivid descriptions are vintage Hiaasen, such as golf balls that are designed to run like a scalded gerbil. Hiaasen also touches on topics he writes about in his novels and newspaper columns, lamenting the overdevelopment of Florida and skewering crooked politicians and lobbyists prone to lavish golf junkets. He finishes his journey with a detailed round-by-round account of his pitiful play in a member-guest tournament on his home course (his discouragement is cheered, however, when his wife and young son joyfully take up the game). With the satirically skilled Hiaasen, who rarely breaks 90 on the links, this narrative is an enjoyable ride. (May)
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From Booklist

“In the summer of 2005, I returned to golf after a much-needed layoff of thirty-two years.” Any golfer knows that those words are a prescription for disaster. And any fiction reader knows that if it’s Carl Hiaasen speaking, the disaster will be not just disastrous but also hysterically, sublimely, surreally funny. And so it is, as recounted in diary form by the fiftysomething Hiaasen, whose gimpy knees and loopy swing consistently undercut the score-lowering results promised by the high-tech gimcracks and expensive clubs he gamely employs in the ongoing search for that elusive breakthrough. What makes Hiaasen’s 577-day diary of hopes denied and dreams deferred so appealing is its everyman aspect: average golfers have a lifetime of frustrations to match Hiaasen’s telescoped experience, and if we don’t have a cadre of famous kibitzers like writer Mike Lupica and golf broadcaster David Feherty to alternately ridicule and support our efforts, we do have our own inner demons, consistently overruling our attempts at positive thinking. Hiaasen, turning serious for a moment while watching his young son pounding away on the driving range, muses, “I believe this is how you’re supposed to feel with a golf club in your hands: Full of heart and free of mind.” Unfortunately, his painfully truthful account reveals all too clearly that “constricted of heart and tangled of mind” more accurately describes what most of us feel as we prepare to swing. --Bill Ott

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (May 6, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307266532
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307266538
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (147 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #508,011 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Carl Hiaasen was born and raised in Florida, where he still lives with his incredibly tolerant family and numerous personal demons.

A graduate of the University of Florida, at age 23 he joined The Miami Herald as a general assignment reporter and went on to work for the paper's weekly magazine and later its prize-winning investigations team. Since 1985 Hiaasen has been writing a regular column, which at one time or another has pissed off just about everybody in South Florida, including his own bosses. He has outlasted almost all of them, and his column still appears on most Sundays in The Herald's opinion-and-editorial section. It may be viewed online at or in the actual printed edition of the newspaper, which, miraculously, is still being published.

For his journalism and commentary, Hiaasen has received numerous state and national honors, including the Damon Runyon Award from the Denver Press Club. His work has also appeared in many well-known magazines, including Sports Illustrated, Playboy, Time, Life, Esquire and, most improbably, Gourmet.

In the early 1980s, Hiaasen began writing novels with his good friend and distinguished journalist, the late William D. Montalbano. Together they produced three mystery thrillers -- Powder Burn, Trap Line and Double Whammy -- which borrowed heavily from their own reporting experiences.

Tourist Season, published in 1986, was Hiaasen's first solo novel. GQ magazine called it "one of the 10 best destination reads of all time," although it failed to frighten a single tourist away from Florida, as Hiaasen had hoped it might. His next effort, Double Whammy, was the first (and possibly the only) novel about sex, murder and corruption on the professional bass-fishing circuit.

Since then, Hiaasen has published nine others -- Skin Tight, Native Tongue, Strip Tease, Stormy Weather, Lucky You, Sick Puppy, Basket Case, Skinny Dip, The Downhill Lie and Nature Girl. Hiaasen made his children's book debut with Hoot (2002), which was awarded a Newbery Honor and spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller lists. For young readers he went on to write the bestselling Flush (2005) and, most recently Scat (January 2009). The film version of Hoot was released in 2006, directed by Wil Shriner and produced by Jimmy Buffett and Frank Marshall. ("Hoot" is now available on DVD).

Hiaasen is also responsible for Team Rodent (1998), a wry but unsparing rant against the Disney empire and its creeping grip on the American entertainment culture. In 2008, Hiaasen came back to nonfiction with The Downhill Lie: A Hacker's Return to a Ruinous Sport. The book chronicles his harrowing and ill-advised reacquaintance with golf after a peaceful, 32-year absence.

Together, Hiaasen's novels have been published in 34 languages, which is 33 more than he is able to read or write. Still, he has reason to believe that all the foreign translations are brilliantly faithful to the original work. The London Observer has called him "America's finest satirical novelist," while Janet Maslin of the New York Times has compared him to Preston Sturges, Woody Allen and S.J. Perelman. Hiaasen re-reads those particular reviews no more than eight or nine times a day.

To prove that he doesn't just make up all the sick stuff in his fiction, Hiaasen has also published two collections of his newspaper columns, Kick A** and Paradise Screwed, both courageously edited by Diane Stevenson and faithfully kept in print by the University Press of Florida.

One of Hiaasen's previous novels, Strip Tease, became a major motion-picture in 1996 starring Demi Moore, and directed by Andrew Bergman. Despite what some critics said, Hiaasen continues to insist that the scene featuring Burt Reynolds slathered from his neck to his toes with Vaseline is one of the high points in modern American cinema.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By John C. Sherwood on February 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Carl Hiaasen's wild and witty novels about Florida lowlifes have provided plenty of entertainment for both my wife and me over the years. I eagerly anticipated the arrival of "The Downhill Lie." I'm a lapsed golfer myself and thought that this story might rekindle interest in the sport. It didn't.

As expected, Hiaasen provides some witty observations, but these are much too rare. This book is little more than the diary of hacker over two years, and there is little entertainment value in that, unless one finds "I had three pars in the first five holes but then had three triples on the back nine and wound up shooting 97" to be engrossing reading.

Hiaasen tries to build some tension as he describes the preparation for his first club tournament, but the redundant episodes that lead to this climax had me frequently checking how many pages I had left before I reached the end of the story. That's not a good sign: it's like checking your watch in the middle of a movie to see when your liberation will arrive.

This book could easily have been written by a CPA ("True Adventures in Accounting?") and provide about the same amount of interest.
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Format: Hardcover
Returning to golf thirty-two years after he gave it up, Carl Hiaasen, author of hilarious mysteries, shares his struggles to relearn the game of golf and maybe, even, learn to have fun with it. Golf is not a natural "fit" for Hiaasen--"I was just as restless, consumed, unreflective, fatalistic, and emotionally unequipped to play golf in my fifties as I was in my teens," he admits. He starts "on the path to perdition" in November, 2002, when Sports Illustrated asks him to go to Barbados to write a humorous piece about the photo shoot for the swimsuit issue, and he ends up playing golf with his editor during the downtime.

Unfortunately, for Hiaasen, he plays well enough that he decides to play golf (with second-hand clubs) back home with friends, and soon gets caught up in the golf-mania of finding the perfect equipment, reading books by gurus like Bob Rotella, David Leadbetter, and legend Harvey Penick, subscribing to golf magazines, and buying anything that may improve his game--from pendants to wear around his neck (to reduce stress) to capsules of herbal supplements (to improve concentration).

Describing himself as a "reclusive, neurotic, doubt-plagued duffer," he keeps a diary for almost six hundred days, obsessively recording, often in salty language and off-the-wall imagery, the rounds he plays with his friends, including Mike Lupica and CBS's David Feherty. Admitting that he suffers from "Wildly Unrealistic Expectations," he reflects the fears and frustrations of all beginning golfers when he 1) has to play in front of strangers, 2) has to play a new course for the first time, and 3) agrees to play in his first tournament.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By David W. Straight on May 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Downhill Lie has some very funny parts to it: Hiaasen has a wonderful self-deprecating sense of humor. You'll find tales of toad-wedging: golf practice that consists of chipping toads onto neighbors' houses. You'll find that golf clubs make effective rat bashers. I suspect that the ASPCA wil find some things to offend them here. You'll read about the time he lost a golf cart--it slipped into a pond.

But I founf myself scratching my head in wonderment at times. Hiaasen is not, to be sure, a scratch golfer, but he has a voracious appetite to improve his game--as most golfers do. But we see him resorting to buying things--pendants with wonder powers to hang around your neck (only 75% as effective if kept in your pocket), herbal pills to improve "muscle memory", RadarGolf devices to help you locate lost balls, and the like. I'm at a loss here. Didn't we see Hiaasen regularly poking fun at the people who bought such devices in many of his novels? In Double Whammy, for instance, there's the unforgettable image of a cheap skiff hauled by a garbage truck to a tournament, and fishing with cheap equipment, when everyone else arrives with massive gadgetry--fish radar, gimmicks galore, etc. Hiaasen had always seemed to be fond of satirizing those who shell out large amounts of money for the kinds of devices he happily buys in Downhill Lie. There's almost an element of Eliot Spitzer here.

I would guess that Hiaasen describes parts of perhaps 200 rounds of golf. Some of this is a pleasure and a delight to read. Some of it is, well....have you ever heard a golfer tell you about one of his rounds, shot by shot, hole by hole? It's never actually that bad or that detailed--but there are times when you feel as if half your mind was on other things.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Eric Hansen on May 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
While the subject's different (golf, versus corrupt Floridians), Carl Hiaassen writes with the same shredding abandon as always. Here, he is taking up golf after a 32-year absence and documenting his "progress" with amusement and vitriol. As an 18-handicap golfer, I enjoyed and empathized with his misadventures.

Now, how about another novel with Skink in it?
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