GUEST REVIEW: Stormy Weather by Carl Hiaasen
In the fall of 1998, in my capacity as co-editor of my high school newspaper, I interviewed author Carl Hiaasen when he came to town promote his book Lucky You. Being seventeen and totally ignorant of author-reader protocols, I more or less ambushed him at Books-A-Million, and he proved to be an astonishingly nice guy-‘he gave me a lengthy interview (I was a big fan; I had a lot of questions.) even though his flight had arrived hours late and he was obviously running a fever. I promised him the interview would never appear in anything but the paper for which I was writing, and I’ve kept that promise-‘which is why, if you count my dad and the faculty advisor, maybe seven people have ever read it. High-schoolers, as I painfully discovered the next Monday, were not Hiaasen’s biggest audience.
But, my cretin classmates aside, the experience was amazing and I remain to this day impressed by Hiaasen’s love of nature, wrathful views on corruption, and unconventional sense of justice. These things, as well as his knack for all shades of humor, from ironic to slapstick to grotesque, are apparent in every book he writes-‘including his more recent YA novels. Often overlooked, however, is his deft way with romance.
Romantic relationships appearing in male-authored mystery and general fiction novels often have an annoying, James Bond quality. Woman/love interest is attractive, barely developed (character-wise, that is) and slightly-‘or not slightly-‘objectified. If it’s a series revolving around a male protagonist, every book introduces a new woman hot to jump Protagonist’s bones. You know the ones I mean. (*cough* Clive Cussler *cough*) Not all of these books are like this, of course, but some of them are. (A lot of them are!) Hiaasen’s books, however, are some of the good "uns.
Stormy Weather was my first Carl Hiaasen novel and also my favorite, probably because it contains a surprisingly sweet romance-‘I write "surprisingly" because this book also contains scenes in which unlikeable minor characters find themselves impaled variously on satellite dishes, horns of irascible cape buffaloes and, in one memorable episode, a Snoop Dog CD. So don’t pick up this book expecting a conventional mystery, a conventional adventure, or especially a conventional romance. Consider yourself warned.
Max Lamb is enthralled by newscasts of the fierce hurricane ravaging south Florida, a trait his new wife, Bonnie, initially finds amusing. Bonnie is considerably less amused, however, when Max cuts short their Disney World honeymoon and drags her south to storm-ravaged Miami. And when Max takes to the streets of a flattened subdivision, gleefully capturing scenes of human misery with his trusty Handycam, Bonnie has serious second thoughts:
Bonnie closed her eyes. What had she done? Was her mother right about this man? Latent asshole, her mother had whispered at the wedding. Was she right?
Yes, I’m afraid she was. But don’t worry-‘there are monkeys.
Through the viewfinder, Max noticed the monkey’s brow was twitching oddly. Suddenly it was airborne. Max lowered the camera just as the animal struck his face, knocking him backward. [-] The stinging told him he’d been scratched. For starters he would require a tetanus booster, and then something more potent to counteract the monkey germs.
In Hiassen’s novels, nature frequently gets to wreak her vengeance on villains and morons. In the case of Max (type: moron) his pursuit of the larcenous attack-monkey leads to his kidnapping, which effectively clears the field for Augustine.
Augustine has just inherited a struggling wildlife import business. Following his uncle’s death by viper bite, he finds himself responsible for an extensive inventory of animals ranging from the potentially man-eating to the merely illegal. And, as an added bonus, the hurricane’s high winds have loosed the entire menagerie on the greater Miami area. Luckily, Augustine is the resourceful sort. He’s a passionate nature lover, a maverick and, thanks to a plane crash that didn’t quite kill him, independently wealthy. And that’s as close as Augustine gets to the traditional romance hero.
Augustine had no need for or interest in the money. He was almost thirty-two years old, and his life was as simple and empty as one could be. Sometimes he deposited the Paine Webber dividends, and sometimes he mailed them off the charities, renegade political candidates and former girlfriends. [ -]
Even before he became wealthy-‘when he worked on his father’s fishing boat and, later, in law school-‘Augustine nursed an unspecific anger that he couldn’t trace and wasn’t sure he should. It manifested itself in the occasional urge to burn something down or blow something up-‘a high rise, a new interstate highway, that sort of thing.
Despite his environmental angst, Augustine is a stand-up kind of guy, and when he hears some of his animals have invaded a local subdivision, he doesn’t hesitate.
Augustine immediately loaded the truck with his uncle’s dart rifle, two long handled nooses, a loaded .38 special, and a five-pound bag of soggy monkey chow.
He didn’t know what else to do.
Given that this is a Carl Hiassen novel, it is difficult to say which quality the reader is supposed to admire more: Augustine’s desire to blow up tourist-enabling infrastructure or his willingness to jump into any breach. Regardless, it’s the latter trait that throws him into the path of Bonnie Lamb.
The man was in his early-thirties, with good shoulders and tanned, strong-looking arms. He had short brown hair, a sharp chin and friendly blue eyes. He wore Rockport hiking shoes, which gave Bonnie a sense of relief. She couldn’t imagine a psychopathic sex killer choosing Rockports.
"Do you live around here?" she asked.
The man shook his head. "Coral Gables."
"Is the gun loaded?"
"Sort of." He didn’t elaborate.
"My name is Bonnie."
"What are you doing out here?" she asked.
"Believe it or not," he said, "I’m looking for my monkeys."
Bonnie Lamb smiled. "What a coincidence."
The cast of Stormy Weather also includes some truly marvelous villains, an inspiring pair of Florida Highway Patrol officers, and the character for which Hiassen is (IMO) most famous, a lunatic-hero-philosopher-vagrant called Skink. It’s the romance between Bonnie and Augustine, though, that sets this novel apart from Hiaasen’s others. In an impressive recovery of character (she did, after all, marry the loathsome Max) Bonnie emerges plucky and likeable, and Augustine is the hot guy you yearn to cuddle, despite his eccentric hobbies. (Uh, skull-juggling?) Mostly, though, it’s just fun to watch romance develop between the disillusioned newlywed and the guy she’s not married to, and I can’t overstate the satisfaction you’ll derive from watching Bonnie give Max the heave-ho.
Not recommended for people about to get married. Or maybe extra-recommended for people about to get married. You decide.