Monday, November 23, 2009

Carl Hiaasen's NATIVE TONGUE

A couple months ago I picked up THE MOUSE THAT ROARED, a Disney critique of sorts, at my public library. In the comments section, George Taylor of Imaginerding mentions that Carl Hiaasen had written a book about a theme park in Florida called "The Amazing Kingdom", and this is the book.

NATIVE TONGUE features developer Francis X. Kingsbury, who has built a popular theme park in the southern part of the state (I think it's down that way, since he mentions the Keys quite a bit), a competitor, if you will, for the tourist dollars that Disney pulls into Florida. There's been a crime, however; the last two blue-tongued mango voles in existence have been stolen from their display, and the ensuing investigation into the theft leads Joe Winder, a newspaperman who has burned out and is now working for the Amazing Kingdom as a PR flack, into a lot of drama.

It's pretty clear from the outset that Hiaasen is dead set against further development in Florida, especially around the Everglades and the Keys. This tale is all about the sleaze and the greed surrounding the development of the Amazing Kingdom, and a subsequent project which will see the destruction of coastland habitats to make way for a housing development and a golf course. Winder finds himself involved with a senior citizen eco-terrorist, a possibly-insane ex-governor who now lives in the swamps, and various synchophants for Kingsbury, who is himself not what he appears to be.

Although by comparison Disney looks pretty good next to the scandal-ridden, borderline criminal enterprise that the Amazing Kingdom hides, there are plenty of backhanded slaps at the company - especially evident is Hiaasen's disdain for any corporation or entity who would re-engineer the land for their own purposes without regard to the pre-existing ecology of the region. I'd say that definitely includes Disney. The fact that Kingsbury is more or less jealous of what Disney has accomplished in Florida is a pretty good slap by itself.

I think the idea that Disney is out for profits at the expense of whatever gets in its way, including the environment, is pretty obvious to most people. Even when they do something like the Animal Kingdom, it involves a massive re-creation of the landscape. It may be a reservoir for plant and animal life, but it is far from natural. Still, I don't share Hiaasen's disdain for the company or what they've done to accomplish what they have accomplished.

Hiaasen is a very talented writer, with a flair for characters, dialogue and setting. I've read a handful of his (currently reading LUCKY YOU, and I'm not sure of what the others I've read are titled - the titles sort of run together for me) and been well entertained by all of them. NATIVE TONGUE was no exception. A really good story right to the finale.

What it says about Disney is open for discussion. But for me, I know I'll keep reading Hiaasen. I'm just surprised it took me this long to get to him.

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