It is a fact that Carl Hiaasen writes fiction that pinpoints Florida’s absurdity, eccentricities and general weirdness. But for most Floridians, it is unarguable that Hiaasen really is writing fictionalized documentaries, basing each oddity, each that-can’t-happen on reality.
Doubt that? Just google some of the plot points in his novels and you will get a treasure trove of reality. Bait-and-switch involving gullible fishermen in “Bad Monkey” — yes. Woman giving herself a bikini shave while driving in “Razor Girl” — oh, yeah. A politician who can’t stay away from strippers in “Strip Tease” — duh!
So the pythons that infiltrate Palm Beach galas in his new novel, “Squeeze Me,” and the slight woman who captures them hardly seem worth doubting. Anyone who lives in Florida or has read a news story about the Sunshine State knows how thousands and thousands of pythons have invaded the Everglades and turned up in all sorts of unlikely places — including, most recently, in a woman’s washing machine.
And, women are among the most successful python hunters. While there is no record of a python eating a person, though photographs have been faked, the sense of reality never evaporates from “Squeeze Me.”
“Squeeze Me” may be Hiaasen’s most political novel, and, yet, in many ways it is not. Yes, it does involve the U.S. president who has a massive home — the Winter White House — in Palm Beach, where he and his wife spend a lot of time. But Hiaasen includes a lot of differences between fiction and reality, concentrating more on Florida’s foibles. And never once do we know the president’s party affiliation.
Hiaasen’s 15th novel for adults belongs to Angie Armstrong, whose job as a wildlife wrangler involves removing errant raccoons, possums, skunks, etc., from homes and businesses and releasing them humanely in the wild. Angie is hired to remove a massive python from the lush grounds of Lipid House, a private Palm Beach estate that specializes in galas and is located near the president’s Casa Bellicosa — see? Another difference.
The appearance of the python, which has a huge hump in its midsection, coincides with the disappearance of a society matron who belongs to an “all-female political fan group” whose name I am not sure we can mention in a family newspaper. Stolen by thieves who add a new definition to bungling, the python eventually lands in the middle of a busy road, stopping the first lady’s motorcade. The woman’s death leads to the president’s tirades about predatory immigrants. In a way, he’s right. Pythons are a kind of immigrant.
The plot of “Squeeze Me” is tailor-made for a reappearance of Clinton “Skink” Tyree, the former Florida governor turned Everglades hermit, sometimes turned avenging angel. Slouching out of his hideaway, Skink plays a pivotal part. Though in many ways he isn’t really needed, he’s always fun to have around.
“Squeeze Me” is vintage Hiaasen — wry humor, social commentary and satire akin to Jonathan Swift, and all fun.
Oline H. Cogdill reviews frequently for the Sun Sentinel and other newspapers.