After a couple of cold but sunny days, we’re back to our usual Northwest winter rain. What a difference a week makes. Don’t get me wrong, the snow was beautiful but by the third time I was shoveling my long driveway, my shoulder was speaking to me and the words weren’t kind. For just a bit, me and the shoulder were thinking a nice warm breeze off the Gulf Coast would feel awfully nice about now. Oh, and perhaps some freshly squeezed OJ and maybe some stone crabs or fresh grouper too.
Not being the best time for a trip, I instead set off to my book shelf to spend a little time in Florida.
My first venture was through a recent novel, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. The story is set in the mid 80's and it is about an odd little family living on a small swampy island. Here they raise and wrestle alligators for the tourists, but their theme park has hit hard times and the family is falling apart. There were some interesting, quirky characters and even some magical possibilities but as we find out later in the book, reality isn’t kind. In the late 70’s, I worked in a bar, and I was reminded of how it looked in the bright light of a Sunday morning. Gone was the romance and soft edges of the night before; left behind was the smell of stale cigarettes and the stickiness from spilled drinks. The disturbing moments in the book left me with some of the same mixed emotions. I moved on.
I decided that if I’m going to go for quirky, Carl Hiaasen was the man to turn to. Though he sometimes writes children’s novels, he has written a number of very strange and unusual crime fiction books with a host of shady and peculiar characters. All states have their low underbelly types and Florida is no exception. But its version of the loser con artist is just a little sleazier than most. Maybe it’s the humidity?
And Carl H knows how to bring out the bizarre in his books. Somehow, they’re less disturbing to me than the Russell book. Mind you, I do have a warped sense of humor and these books play into that. I think my favorite one is Stormy Weather, written about the Miami area after a hurricane hit in the early 1990s. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in South Florida and I found that I knew not only the locations he wrote about, I knew the characters. I could actually hear their voices in my head as I read the story. For after the flooding and destruction, what rises to the surface in this book is the human version of cockroaches. No wonder I hate them. Fortunately, good does usually prevail in the end, even if Hiaasen's approach is a bit twisted at times.
Sanibel Island, one of my favorite Florida places, is where another author, Randy Wayne White, sets his crime novels. In these, we hang out with Marion “Doc” Ford, a marine biologist who keeps trying to leave his previous profession behind; he worked as an operative for one of the government agencies. Unfortunately, trouble seems to keep finding him. Though there’s plenty of murder and mayhem, it is the people who live around this mangrove bay and Doc himself that makes these books so compelling. I especially love Tomlinson, the new age hippie who lives on a boat across the water from Doc. Mind you, White’s got a few other quirky characters too. The one I’m currently reading again, The Man Who Invented Florida, has a couple of old geezers who think they’ve found the fountain of youth!
So, it’s back to my adventures in Florida. A little sunshine and heat is all this Northwest gal needs, even if it is all in my head. Though perhaps I'll go pick up a few oranges at the store. After all, the smell and taste of a sweet juicy orange could work wonders for my psyche...