The Everglades National Park
FIU IDH 4007

The Everglades for Dummies

Catherine Torres
IDH 4007
Spring Semester 2005

    The best way to get people interested in a novel is to title it Skinny Dip. Even better, one of the most effective ways to get people involved in Florida's Everglades is by subtly making it the setting for a novel full of murder, sex, mayhem, and lots of comedy. Carl Hiaasen's Skinny Dip is an attractive read from the start. The title and the cover immediately call on the baser of human instinct. They are catchy and promise readers entertainment. It is a perfect marketing scheme. Even if a person were to see the novel but neglect to purchase it, there is a big chance that that person will read the cover preview... "Chaz Perrone...the only marine scientist in the world who doesn't know which way the Gulf Stream runs"... "Illegally dumping fertilizer into the endangered Everglades"... "The warped politics and mayhem of the human environment"... Automatically, any passer-by skimmer of the novel will wonder: "What way does the Gulf Stream run?" At the same time, they get a glimpse into possibly un-chartered waters and gain minimal, yet important details about the Everglades, namely, that it is endangered and that 'warped politics' are part of the reason. If an individual delves into the novel, knowing little to nothing about Florida's Everglades, they get a crash course about Florida's environment in an Everglades for Dummies kind of way.

   Skinny Dip is a great read for various reasons. It is packed with a murder mystery plot full of vengeance, plenty of shootings, and lots of scheming. It provides some ridiculous situations, hilarious sex scenes, and enough drama to keep a reader sufficiently entertained. The characters are real and the situations, though sometimes farfetched, are a good measure of the absurdity that is very much a reality. The most important aspect of the novel, however, is not why Chaz tried to kill Joey or how Joey goes about getting her revenge, but rather how an environment can affect the daily lives of individuals. The Everglades in Hiaasen's novel is the core of the story. Many critics may argue that the novel oversimplifies the Everglades situation, and it does. But what person, save an environmentalist, is going to pick up a novel titled Everglades: a Complete History? Not too many people want to pick up the complete Microsoft handbook and read it in its entirety. Instead, they pick up the Microsoft for Dummies guide and learn the basics. That is essentially what Skinny Dip is all about, the basics of the Everglades. It exists, it is endangered, and it needs to be saved.

   Hiaasen exposes the truth about the Everglades by interweaving it into the story's plot. Earl, the big fat and hairy bodyguard, becomes the 'tool' essential to understanding the Everglades. Because of Tool's overwhelming pain caused by a bullet wound, he becomes addicted to fentanyl. In his quest for the patches of fentanyl, he visits hospices, "where the people are too sickly to make a fuss". He steals from them, with no care whatsoever for their wellbeing, and regardless, always goes back for more patches. In the same respect, Florida's Everglades are like the hospice patients, continually attacked, vandalized, and then ignored. Ultimately, the environment has no voice and gives in without a fuss. If the environment were to have a voice and refuse to "part easily with [its] medication" as in an assisted-living facility, then it would not be as easy a target for people like Tool. The only reason Tool chose to target hospices is because it is there that he can steal without a fuss. It is amazing that no one questioned Tool's actions, but ignored him and assumed that he was a newly hired orderly. Because people and their actions go unquestioned, an innumerable amount of sins are committed against the environment. Nature acts like the book "The Giving Tree". It says, like Maureen, "Go ahead and take it, but please be careful. I tend to bleed for no darn reason these days" (135). The Everglades give us the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the beauty we see, but if people continue to use it and abuse it, we will lose it. Tool continued to take from the voiceless until one voice told him different. It is only when Maureen became a living being to him (by asking him his name and keeping up a conversation) that Tool realized that perhaps he was doing something wrong. It is only when you allow someone or something to get close that that something affects you enough to make you think twice about your actions. Unfortunately, unless people add a voice, like Maureen's, to the Everglades, it will continue to be destroyed.

   A clever addition to Hiaasen's novel is the title given to Maureen's nursing home, Elysian Manor. Elysian is the perfect paradise that comes after death. In a sense, it seems that Hiaasen's reference to Elysian points to the paradise of the Everglades, a paradise that may one day only be remembered after its death for the paradise that it once was. Tool realized the 'bankable fact' that "people spend little time with their ailing mothers and fathers" (133). This bankable fact also exists in regards to the Everglades. People spend little to no time engaging in the environment that surrounds them, which only adds to its misery. There are plenty of residents who have lived in Florida their entire lives and have never ventured into the Everglades. At the same time, how can someone like Chaz, who has traveled into the Everglades, "not be dazzled" by its stunning beauty? (250).

   After fifteen miles of pedaling by bicycle through the Everglades, watching the birds, and counting the numerous alligators, it is difficult to believe that anyone cannot appreciate the environment of Florida. Reading novels about the settings that need to be conserved adds to the actual experience of that environment. But when a visit to the environment is not possible, authors like Carl Hiaasen offer readers important information about the Everglades without the fifteen mile bike trip. Only a dummy would pass up on the message.

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