Nature Girl (novel)
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Cover of the first edition of Nature Girl
|Cover artist||Charles Burns|
|Publisher||Alfred A. Knopf|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||Skinny Dip|
|Followed by||Star Island|
Nature Girl is a caper drama satire by Carl Hiaasen first published in 2006.
Honey Santana becomes irritated by telemarketers and invites a particularly obnoxious one to a phony real estate promotion - which she describes as an eco-tour - in the Ten Thousand Islands in order to teach him a lesson. It is thus that telemarketers Boyd Shreave and his reluctant mistress Eugenie Fonda make their way from Texas to Dismal Key in Florida with Honey, unaware that she is being stalked by Louis Piejack, Honey's perverted and disfigured ex-employer, who is unaware that he is being followed by Fry, Honey's wise and protective twelve-year-old son, and his courageous ex-drug runner father. Also on the island are a young half-Seminole man named Sammy Tigertail and his very willing captive, Gillian, a sex-obsessed, warmhearted Florida State coed. Various odd events surface along the way.
Detailed plot summary
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Single mother Honey Santana is out of work again, having hit her lecherous boss, Louis Piejack, after he sexually molested her in the workplace. In the middle of dinner, Honey receives a call from telemarketer Boyd Shreave, in Fort Worth, Texas, trying to sell her a cheap parcel of land. Honey declines, and touches a nerve by asking Boyd if his mother knows what he does for a living (she does, and does not approve). Boyd loses his temper and calls her a nasty name, making her obsessed with tracking him down to teach him a lesson.
Sammy Tigertail, a young half-Seminole, needs a place to hide. A drunken tourist has just died of a heart attack in the middle of an airboat ride. Misconstruing some advice from his Uncle Tommy, he dumps the tourist’s body in the river and leaves the reservation to camp in the Islands. He has brought along an authentic Gibson Super 400 electric guitar, having always wanted to teach himself how to play. His solitude is interrupted by a group of college students having a drunken party. He is about to steal one of their canoes and find another island, when one of the students, a girl named Gillian, discovers him and wants to come along for the adventure. When she threatens to wake the others, Sammy has no choice but to take her with him.
In Texas, Boyd is fired for insulting a customer. He has been carrying on an extra-marital affair with his colleague, Eugenie Fonda, who was briefly famous as the mistress of a tabloid murderer. Eugenie, who has been sleeping with Boyd largely out of boredom and convenience, tells him she is not interested in carrying on their affair. Boyd is crushed. He is also unaware that his wife, Lily, is aware of his philandering and has hired a private investigator, Dealey, to gather evidence for a divorce.
Honey tracks Boyd down and calls him at home, posing as a telemarketer offering a free trip to Florida as part of a timeshare promotion. Boyd seizes the opportunity to try to win Eugenie back, and she is intrigued enough by a trip to Florida to accept.
Honey borrows the airfare from her ex-husband, Perry Skinner, a crab fisherman and former marijuana smuggler. She also asks her son, Fry, if he can stay with him for a few days, while she entertains some guests from out of town.
Lily Shreave, despite assurances from Dealey that they have more than enough evidence for a quick and uncontested divorce, wants more explicit footage. Dealey realizes that she is no longer looking for evidence, only indulging a fetish, but agrees to follow Boyd and Eugenie to Florida.
Boyd and Eugenie arrive in Florida, and drive to the address given, surprised to find it is a trailer park. Outside the trailer Dealey is abducted by Louis Piejack, who is stalking Honey. While skateboarding past the trailer park, Fry catches sight of them.
On a new island, Dismal Key, Sammy is trying to find peace, but is distracted by Gillian’s chatty presence. She gradually wins him over with her adventurousness, resilience and guitar skills.
Honey leads Boyd and Eugenie on a kayaking trip, during which Boyd’s obnoxiousness is fully on display. By coincidence, they land on Dismal Key.
Fry is so preoccupied worrying about his mother that he collides with a garbage truck on his skateboard, suffering a concussion. Skinner, who does not trust the hospital to look after his son, puts a football helmet on him and drives with him to the docks. He has spotted Piejack tailing Honey’s kayak in a johnboat, and plans to follow them.
On Dismal Key, Honey reveals who she really is, and proceeds to give Boyd a rehearsed lecture on basic courtesy and consideration. Scornfully, Boyd shrugs it off and turns to leave with Eugenie. They find the kayaks gone — Sammy, mistaking them for intruders, has stolen them.
Dealey arrives on the island with Piejack, but Sammy finds them and knocks Piejack out. He then takes Dealey prisoner, mistaking him for the tourist’s ghost.
After Honey, Boyd and Eugenie fall asleep, Sammy sneaks to their campsite to steal water. Eugenie wakes and follows him back, wanting the quickest possible way off the island. There, she meets Dealey, who confesses what Lily hired him to do.
Dealey borrows Gillian’s cell phone and calls the Coast Guard for air rescue. Sammy says that Eugenie and Gillian are leaving with him, whether they want to or not. Sensing her last opportunity, Gillian asks Eugenie for some privacy, and then finally succeeds in seducing Sammy.
Skinner arrives on the island, telling Fry to stay in the boat. Unwilling to comply, Fry jumps out and starts searching, running into Eugenie. With her jaded view of men, Eugenie is charmed by Fry’s intelligence and manners, and positively enchanted to hear that Honey’s ex-husband has charged into the wilderness to rescue her. Fry is suddenly overcome by vertigo, and Eugenie helps him back toward the camp.
In the morning, Honey, in a last-ditch attempt to get through to Boyd, makes him climb a tree with her to watch a magnificent sunrise. Needless to say, Boyd remains completely oblivious and unmoved. As they climb down, Piejack snatches Honey, and Boyd watches mutely as she is dragged away.
Sammy reconsiders whether he wants Gillian to go. The decision is taken out of his hands when a Coast Guard helicopter arrives. Dealey foolishly tires to paddle out in one of Honey’s kayaks, but tips it and is about to drown when Gillian dives in to keep him afloat. Fry encourages Eugenie to go too, and she follows Gillian and Dealey into the helicopter.
Fry goes searching for Honey again, and comes upon her and Piejack just as he is threatening Honey with a shotgun. Honey attacks Piejack in defense of her son, while Skinner and Sammy come running. Sammy sacrifices his Gibson, which Skinner uses for a killing blow on Piejack’s head. Skinner is shot in the hip, and Honey rushes him with Fry back to the mainland. Sammy disposes of Piejack’s body using his johnboat.
Boyd, left by himself, grabs Sammy’s canoe and takes off. On another island, he stumbles on a small religious group who have been expecting Jesus Christ to reappear on the water in a boat. They eagerly accept Boyd as their savior.
Sammy dumps Piejack’s body next to the tourist’s, and finds a new island, where he reconstructs the guitar. When he realizes that Gillian is searching the islands for him, he wonders whether or not he wants to keep hiding.
Eugenie leaves her telemarketing job and, as a snub to Lily Shreave, sends her footage of two geckos having sex which she idly filmed on the island with one of Dealey’s cameras. Dealey offers Eugenie a job in his office. (“Just don’t try to get in my pants.”)
Characteristically, Boyd alienates even his religious followers, who kick him out of the group and leave him on the island with his canoe. Eventually he makes his way to the mainland, and is intrigued to hear a tourist couple from Chicago asking eagerly for a realtor.
Skinner and Honey get back together, while recovering from their injuries inflicted by Piejack. Fry is happy, but worried about whether his mother’s obsessiveness will drive them apart again. In the middle of dinner, the phone rings. With a huge effort, Honey decides not to answer it.
Like many of Hiaasen’s novels, the events of the book are largely driven by the collection of characters who populate it:
- Honey Santana: a single mother. After Fry was born, Honey developed an overpowering fear of reckless, dangerous, or destructive behavior, which has expanded into a perilously low tolerance for general rudeness and thoughtlessness – all of which, Hiaasen assures us, are abundant in South Florida. Honey has some sort of mental illness, and is off her medication, so she always hears songs playing in her head.
- Boyd Shreave: a telemarketer employed by Relentless, Inc. Boyd is a typical Hiaasen bad guy: obnoxious, arrogant, totally self-absorbed and oblivious to both nature and his own shortcomings. He has been in sales for his entire adult life, partly out of laziness, partly out of general unfitness for any other career, and partly based on an unshakeable conviction (reinforced through countless hours of daytime television) that he is superior to the rest of humanity, and that somewhere out there is a market for him, crammed with suckers.
- Eugenie Fonda: Shreave's colleague and mistress. Her major claim to fame is having had a fling with a man who murdered his wife a week later, leading to a highly publicized trial and a book deal. It would also have been her claim to wealth had not a later boyfriend, a stockbroker, convinced her to invest the royalties entirely in Enron. She has seduced Shreave largely out of boredom, the same reason she agrees to accompany him to Florida. She is the author of a potboiler called "Storm Ghoul".
- Fry Santana: Honey's son. He is only twelve but looks fourteen. Athletic, brave and very intelligent. He loves both his parents but does not believe they could get back together.
- Perry Skinner: Honey's ex-husband. A former marijuana smuggler turned crab fisherman. Strong, reliable, and handsome. Honey's obsessive behavior drove him away but he has never stopped loving her.
- Theodore Dealey: a private detective hired by Boyd's wife to follow him and Eugenie to Florida.
- Sammy Tigertail: a half-Seminole, half-white man in his 20s. After his father's death, he tried to re-invent himself as a true Native American, though he feels equally out of place in both worlds. He is saddened by his tribe's bloody history of victimization by the white man, though he has inherited his father's love for classic rock.
- Gillian St. Croix: a student at Florida State University. Outwardly shallow and sex-obsessed, she nonetheless yearns for true adventure and a meaningful relationship, and so is immune to most of the superficial influences that capture her girlfriends - hence her insistence on sticking with Sammy to the end.
- Louis Piejack: Honey's former boss, the owner of the fish market where she worked. A pervert and a wife beater, Piejack is obsessed with capturing Honey and making her his "obedient-homemaker-slash-sex-slave". After he gropes Honey's breast in the workplace, she applies a crab hammer to his testicles. When he finds out about it, Perry goes one better and hires two thugs to shove Piejack's offending hand into a crab trap. Due to a power outage at the emergency room, his fingers are re-attached in the wrong positions.
- Tommy Tigertail: Sammy's uncle, a prominent and wealthy member of the Seminole nation.
Allusions to actual history, geography or persons
- There are repeated references to the Second Seminole War and its leading figures: Osceola, Thlocklo Tustenuggee, aka Chief Tiger Tail, Andrew Jackson, General Thomas Jesup, and Duncan Clinch. The great irony is pointed out that Jackson, the great enemy of the Seminole Nation, now adorns the $20 bills that the Nation rakes in from its casinos - as Tommy Tigertail says to Sammy, "it's better than spitting on the old bastard's grave."
- Sammy's pride in his Native American heritage was stoked by reading "The Seminole Indians of Florida," the 1884 report by Clay MacCauley to the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of Ethnology.
- Many novels use fictitious locations, but Nature Girl does not. The author has presented real locations in south-west Florida as they would have been presented in a true story. Dismal Key exists and so do the many localities referred to in the Ten Thousand Islands area near Everglades City.
- Sammy and his Uncle Tommy are purported to be descendants of Chief Tigertail. Sammy assumes the alias "Thlocklo" ("Tiger Tail") during his retreat.
- Gillian’s conservative parents are alarmed at the thought of her going to college in Tallahassee, after reading a tawdry story about "a prominent state legislator who put his favorite Hooters waitress on the state payroll". This is an oblique reference to Tom Feeney, formerly a U.S. Congressman and former Speaker of the Florida House, who was indeed ridiculed for appointing waitress Bridgette Gregory to a state administrative position despite her lack of a college degree or other qualifications for the job.
- Sammy’s guitar, appropriated from the Seminole Nation’s Hard Rock Café casino, once belonged to Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, Sammy’s father’s favorite band.
- Theodore Dealey, the private investigator who makes a living shooting photos of unfaithful spouses, is based in Dallas, Texas. Dealey Plaza in Dallas was the site of John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963. Kennedy was known as an unfaithful spouse, and the pictures of his shooting death are famous.
Connections with Hiaasen's other works
- Tommy Tigertail, Sammy's uncle, makes his first appearance since Hiaasen's first novel, Tourist Season.
- Tommy also refers to the main antagonist of that novel, the eco-terrorist Skip Wiley.
- There is a humorous passage in Basket Case when the protagonist ruminates about the usefulness of GPS devices: while they are useful, they also allow complete morons to escape the consequences of their own stupidity — "to wander into the wilderness without any fear of getting lost.... So much for natural selection". There is a scene in Nature Girl in which Boyd, trying to signal a Coast Guard helicopter, yells into a GPS receiver, which he has mistaken for a radio. The fact that a GPS is incomprehensible to Boyd puts him on a rung below a complete moron.