Friday, December 15, 2006

everything is weirder here

The saying goes that everything is bigger in Texas, and if we have an equivalent I would say that everything is weirder in Florida. That weirdness might start with our climate and natural surroundings, but it definitely applies to the people, the politics, and the literature here as well.

One of the Florida authors my friend Kevin of hidden city raves about is Carl Hiaasen. His most recent novel, Nature Girl, is about a woman who lures a hapless telemarketer to her home in the Everglades, not only to punish him for his annoying vocation but to give him a fuller appreciation of the natural world. I heard a radio interview with the author on WBUR's On Point, a public radio show in syndication nationwide which unfortunately doesn't broadcast in Miami. I heard it online though.

It was strange hearing all the live callers, most of them Miami natives, who phoned in from New Mexico, South Carolina, Kentucky, everywhere but Miami. The host Tom Ashbrook at one point wondered aloud why all these people had left, whether it was the very weirdness and scuzziness of the place Carl Hiaasen depicts that had driven them all away. It's probably more because we can't hear On Point live, but it is remarkable how many former Floridians are still in love with the stories, the colors, and the overall weirdness of this place. Hiaasen pointed out that he sees Florida as a place of incredible wonders which people are quickly and senselessly destroying - in this sense his novels aren't so much satire, he said, but documentary.

Another native Miami author I've recently discovered is Karen Russell, whose debut collection is St. Lucy's Home For Girls Raised by Wolves. Russell's stories also feature the glorious strangeness of Florida. Her stories are filled with human attempts to tame and control nature, which somehow only manage to turn everything weirder. We're placed in bizarre theme parks (Swamplandia!), school field trips gone tragically wrong, a program pairing young ex-cons with retirees living in boats, and a reformatory school for feral girls. Just like Hiaasen, her stories are hilarious and reveal human nature at its twisted extremes.

Maybe things wouldn't be half as weird around here if we didn't have so many people trying to straighten Florida up and turn it into a big Disney amusement park. The real amusement of Florida comes from watching all those plans go askew, seeing nature take its revenge, and our authentic, native weirdness winning out in the end.

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