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Native Tongue
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      Hang On to Your Seats!

Title: Native Tongue
Author: Carl Hiaasen
Publisher: Warner Vision Books November 2004 (for current edition)
Genre: Fiction, Humor

ISBN: 0446613207
Paperback: 481 pages

Rating: Highly Recommended


November 5, 2004 


A typical family is on their way to the Amazing Kingdom in Florida when suddenly, someone in a blue pickup truck flings something out of the truck and onto the back seat of their rented Chrysler LeBaron.  Thus begins the wild and crazy convergence of blue-tongued mango voles, senior citizen eco-guerillas, a burnt-out ex-reporter, two inept thieves,  an ex-governor turned ecological avenger, and a former mob informant who is now one of the sleaziest and richest land developers in all of Florida.


When the last two blue-tongued voles in existence are stolen from the Amazing Kingdom, Joe Winder is assigned the task of spinning the story into the standard drivel consistently served up to the media by his bosses.  Joe was once an investigative reporter, and he now feels as if he has sold his soul as he fabricates the lies promulgated by the PR machine at his new job.  Bud and Danny are the two thieves who stole the voles at the behest of Molly McNamara.  Molly is  a deceptively innocent-looking senior citizen who hired Bud and Danny to kidnap the voles.  She is extremely upset when she discovers that both voles have met untimely ends before reaching her.  Molly is the head of Mothers of Wilderness, a group bent on stopping the desecration of Florida’s land and animal population by any means available.  Francis X. Kingsbury, who owns the Amazing Kingdom, once ratted on the mob and is now living under an assumed name and identity.  Francis X struck it rich by developing land in Florida in questionable deals.  He then built the Amazing Kingdom - glossy and insipidly cheery on the outside, stinking like a sewer just beneath the surface.  And then there is Skink, ex-governor of Florida who now lives a solitary existence in the swamplands, trying to save what little is left of Florida’s undeveloped land.  He saves Joe’s life early on, then wreaks spectacular revenge upon Francis X and his desecration of the land in the climactic ending of the book.  We also meet many minor oddball characters along the way, all pursuing their own interests.


While this is a lengthy book, it was easy to read and I often found myself laughing out loud.  Carl Hiaasen has a passionate devotion to his beloved Florida and a righteous anger towards those who refuse to acknowledge the value and importance of the fragile ecosystem that sustains it.  Joe Winder is the alter ego through whom Mr. Hiaasen can play out his quest for justice and retribution against those who continue to destroy the beauty of the land.  I must admit, there are a few scenes that are not for the weak of heart or stomach, and I found myself quickly skimming over them.  But I appreciate the author’s ability not only to make us laugh, but also to make us think and appeal to our collective conscience about what is happening to our planet and to us as a people.  When Bud, one of the thieves, accidentally ends up walking through the nursery of a hospital, he looks at the cooing parents and wonders why people are still having children when the world is in such a mess.  More victims, thought Bud Schwartz. Bud then imagines the babies’ futures:  They would grow up to have automobiles and houses and apartments that would all, eventually, be burglarized by lowlifes such as himself, It is apparent that the author is wearing his heart on his sleeve in this passage as both optimist and cynic.  As hope springs forth by the dawning of new life, it bumps up against the reality of our damaged and fractured world.  But with Hiaasen leading the charge, there will always be a few laughs to help us along the way.


This is a new paperback edition of Native Tongue, which was originally published in 1991.  It is a fun and enjoyable read.  And, alas, the theme of environmental devastation is as timely today as it was when it was first written. 


Reviewed by Nancy Machlis Rechtman

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