Hiaasen's 'Sick Puppy': green politics and rants

February 06, 2000|By Chris Kridler | Chris Kridler,Special to the Sun

"Sick Puppy," by Carl Hiaasen. Alfred A. Knopf. 352 pages. $25.

Carl Hiaasen's new novel, "Sick Puppy," has all the rich jerks, crazy crusaders, sexual perversion and Florida wildlife his readers expect. What it needs is a little more of the unexpected.

It's not bad. It's often fun, as it tells of the consequences when a disturbed and rich young man, Twilly, decides to teach a lesson to a litterbug lobbyist, who's facilitating a project that will ruin a pristine island and keep a powerful governor and his campaign donors happy.

Complicating matters are the lobbyist's pretty, smart wife, who's looking for just the kind of insane escape Twilly offers, and her stupidly happy Labrador retriever, who's at least one of the sick puppies implied by the title. Why he's sick is an amusing, though minor, incident left for readers to find out.

So what's wrong with this setup? Not much, unless you've read Hiaasen's too-similar "Native Tongue," a much better book. Both it and "Sick Puppy" feature a guerrilla war waged by an appealingly nutty hero against rapacious land developers. And in both books, the hero is assisted by Clinton Tyree, the freaked-out ex-governor who lives off roadkill and is aided in his Quixotic quests by an obliging ex-bodyguard who's now a cop.

The other characters in "Puppy" are uneven. On the interesting side are lobbyist Palmer Stoat, a well-drawn, oblivious villain passionate about hunting and cigars, and Robert Clapley, the island's developer, whose goal in life is to turn a pair of drughead immigrants into life-size dolls.

"Palmer Stoat enjoyed watching the man write out the check. Clapley's discomfiture was manifest, and Stoat didn't mind prolonging it. An important principle was at stake; a matter of respect. Stoat considered himself a professional, and in the lobbyist trade a pro didn't tolerate being jerked around for his fee, particularly by baby-faced ex-smugglers with Barbie fetishes."

The politicians in the story are notably corrupt but otherwise not terribly intriguing. The heavy, a hit man who's dispatched to solve Clapley's problem (i.e. Twilly), is twisted but doggedly dull. And the only two intelligent women -- the obligatory love object and the governor's aide -- need more to do.

The novel treads in bleak territory, as it includes attempted rape on both a personal and an environmental scale. It's repetitive in its green tirades, no matter how worthy and righteous they are, and the pacing sags as the book winds down. The climactic scene -- set on an illegal big-game hunting ranch -- is satisfyingly ironic and violent, but it's a long time coming.

The question is, as always, is "Sick Puppy" worth reading? If you're a diehard Carl Hiaasen fan or need a distraction on the airplane, sure. If you toss fast-food wrappers out your car window, take it as a warning. But if you want all of the acidic satire, goofy goings-on and personality you've come to expect from Hiaasen's best, you may have to wait for his next coconutty concoction.

Chris Kridler is the technology editor for Florida Today. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, Premiere, The Sun, The Maryland Poetry Review and other publications.

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