Carl Hiaasen’s Nature Girl begins with a tantalizing question: What punishment will this wicked satirist of American folly dream up for a sleazy telemarketer? The unfortunate answer: a series of excrement-related humiliations in a sloppily plotted follow-up to his terrific 2004 novel, Skinny Dip.
Boyd Shreave is a stock Hiaasen scumbag. Greedy, lecherous, and lazy, he’s been cheating on his wife with Eugenie Fonda, a floozy colleague at the Fort Worth telemarketing firm where he hawks Florida ranchettes. That is, until he dials up the wrong mark: stock Hiaasen heroine Honey Santana, a kooky babe with a reverence for nature and a hot temper. In her Everglades double-wide, Honey is just sitting down to some Salisbury steaks with her 12-year-old son, Fry, when Boyd telephones and launches his mynah-bird pitch. Honey delivers Boyd a lecture on manners, and Boyd calls Honey a ”dried-up old skank.”
Major mistake. Posing as a telemarketer herself, Honey subsequently lures Boyd and Eugenie to southwestern Florida with promises of a balmy vacation, then paddles them off to the aptly named Dismal Key — one of the region’s 10,000 islands — where she intends to teach Boyd a lesson. But it’s a sweetly high-minded lesson, reflecting the sentimental streak that runs through Hiaasen’s darkly comic work: ”A tour through the islands would expand his mind, open his eyes and deflate that superior attitude,” she reflects. ”Boyd Shreave would come back humbled and enriched.”
Alas, Honey fails, both because Boyd is unsalvageable, and because Hiaasen dispatches a ragtag army of nutjobs to Dismal Key to muck up the plot, narrative discipline giving way to gratuitously weird characters and sophomoric humor. Everyone seems to be following or fleeing someone. Stalking Honey are Fry and her he-man ex-husband, Skinner, as well as Louis Piejack, a grotesquely mutilated fishmonger who wants her as his ”sex angel.” Stalking Boyd is a private eye hired by his wife to bring back video footage of him penetrating Eugenie. Meanwhile, Sammy Tigertail, a saturnine former alligator wrestler, is hiding out after the freak death of a tourist on his airboat; he has either abducted, or been abducted by, a pimply sorority girl named Gillian, who prattles on about losing her virginity on a golf course while trying to alligator-wrestle Sammy.
If you can imagine a French bedroom farce with sleeping bags, sawed-off shotguns, bald-eagle scat, Tasers shoved down pants, and swarming fire ants, you have a sense of the cockeyed finale of this half-baked novel.