April 2019 – Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen
Blog by Cindy Bushey
Being a member of a book club can open many genres of writing that you normally would never choose to explore. And there’s no guarantee you will always enjoy them. On the other hand, different genres can sometimes present perspectives you never considered. It’s a gamble, and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Standing alone at either end of that spectrum is okay because variety is the spice of life. Zion’s Book Club found a lot of variety along with many other things in its April selection, Razor Girl, by Carl Hiaasen. Many of our readers were already familiar with Mr. Hiaasen’s satirical works, set in Florida and always edgy and raucous. Others were dipping their toes for the first time.
Mr. Hiaasen is a native Floridian and long-time columnist for the Miami Herald who finds inspiration for his novels in the headlines of Florida newspapers and magazines as well as in police logs. In Florida, almost anything can happen and usually does as shown in this sample: “Eight Miami Residents Arrested in $100 Million Medicare Fraud Schemes” (HealthLeaders 2009), “Jamaican Police Left Stranded after Thieves Steal a Beach” (The Guardian 2008), and “Police Say ‘Bump and Rob’ Crime is Back, Ask Public to be Aware of Surroundings” (The Palm Beach Post 2014). Truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction but can it ever give novelists ideas!
Enter Razor Girl Merry Mansfield who works in the Key West area for the mob as a kidnapper. Her preferred method is to rear-end the target’s car, have the driver emerge and walk back to find her grooming a sensitive part of her anatomy on her way to a date. This so stuns the driver that he/she agrees to give Merry a ride which, of course, ends up poorly for the driver. Her target is Martin Trebeaux who has sold substandard sand to a mob hotel for its beach. However, Merry hits the car of Buck Nance, a reality tv star with a show about rooster farming in the bayous. The mob is still gunning for Trebeaux, who thinks he can talk the Cuban government into selling some of their premium sand to him. Nance has now become a missing persons case and the police bring in disgraced detective and current health inspector Andrew Yancy to find Nance. Merry feels bad about getting the wrong guy and teams up with Yancy to track down the missing entertainer. Yancy, meanwhile, is trying to keep the property next to his from being built upon by a couple of yuppies as it would ruin his view of the ocean. He manages to stall them by finding the woman’s missing diamond engagement ring and hiding it in some goop in his fridge while salting the property with old teeth that will guarantee the involvement of archeologists and further delay the project. Yancy also has to occasionally do his actual job of inspecting eating establishments and comes face to face with giant Gambian pouched rats (another true item).
Hiaasen is always descriptive and has colorful characters. He also is always off-color with the f-bomb generously sprinkled adjectivally, adverbally, etc. throughout the pages. He delights in the absurd, especially when found in real life. On the other hand, he is a committed environmentalist who firmly believes Florida and its natural beauty is being ruined by all the developers and resorts (check out his non-fiction diatribe about Team Rodent (Disney)). However, his style isn’t for everyone. Although he has received many awards for his satire, readers should not expect classic literature when they open his books, just entertainment. Many of our book club members laughed out loud at the characters’ antics and commented that their language was sadly similar to what they hear in their work places. Others felt they never read a book with so many amoral characters. And very few of us, after the roaches and rats, felt inclined to eat in a South Florida restaurant!
The author always has multiple story lines going in his novels, so it is sometimes hard to keep the characters straight. One of our readers felt there were three layers of bad guys in this book and marveled at some of the naivete and idiocy they displayed – not many brains sometimes (who would think they could negotiate with the mob?), but lots of brass. Another reader wondered if we exist in a parallel universe here in rural Adams County since things that happen to characters in many of the books we read never happen to us! Many other readers were deeply thankful that such is the case. It was also interesting to compare the memories of readers who had visited Key West and seen entirely different sides of the city. Those who had wandered certain streets were more inclined to give Hiaasen’s characters great credibility, while those with a tamer vacation felt he blew them out of proportion. Another reader remembered her husband had seen rats as big as groundhogs while traveling in that area of the world. Still others recalled seeing large screens in back yards to keep out mosquitoes. And we’ve all heard reports of reptiles in back yard pools in Florida. While we all could find common ground in saving what’s left of Florida’s natural habitat, we were still divided in our opinions of Hiaasen’s novel. For someone who would like to see the tourists stay home, it seems that the author’s oddball characters and successful novels might have the opposite effect. Readers might be attracted to south Florida for both its natural beauty and the chance of seeing some of the sights Hiaasen describes! Razor Girl might seem an odd choice for a book club composed of church members, but we are eclectic readers and most find the exposure to various genres helps us determine what we like and dislike in addition to widening our horizons. This book inspired a very wide range of reactions: one reader gave it 4 thumbs down and thought it totally inappropriate; three were neutral, three gave it a knuckle, five gave it 1 thumb up, and two gave it 2 thumbs up.
In May, Zion’s readers will turn their attention to Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan as we wrap up our reading season. When we return in September, we’ll be meeting on the second Thursday of the month and begin with My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin.