Alligators, pythons, and vampires in the Everglades

Set in the Everglades, Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

They’re maybe 14 years old. His name is Wahoo; he was named after the wrestler, not the fish. Hers is Tuna. Yes, the fish. So, they decide to call each other Lance and Lucille.

They live in the Everglades.


Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

@@@ (3 out of 5)


His father is an animal wrangler who supplies docile animals to TV survivalist shows that purport to show men wrestling with alligators or snakes. Hers is a drunken bum who drove her mother away to Chicago and now beats her instead of her mother.

They spend a lot of time together, but they are NOT boyfriend and girlfriend.

Now, are you getting the impression that this cockamamie story is a book for young readers?

Welcome to the world of Carl Hiaasen, a long-time columnist for the Miami Herald who has written some of the funniest novels ever on environmental themes. His adult books — there are 16 of them — are all set in Florida. As Wikipedia notes, “Hiaasen’s Florida is a hive of greedy businessmen, corrupt politicians, dumb blondes, apathetic retirees, intellectually challenged tourists, hard-luck redneck cooters, and militant ecoteurs.” That “militant ecoteur,” by the way, is a deranged ex-Governor who walked out of the capital one day long ago and went feral. He now holes up in the Everglades, eating what he can scavenge or kill and ever vigilant to threats to its flora and fauna.

Chomp is one of Hiaasen’s four novels for young adults. Like his grown-up books, Chomp is chiefly a satire, with the environment as the beneficiary. Here, the brunt of Hiaasen’s wit is Derek Badger (“NOT Beaver”), the star of a wildly popular TV show featuring him in constant danger in the wilderness from man-eating beasts. However, as Wahoo and Tuna soon learn once Badger hires Wahoo’s father for a show in the Everglades, Badger is nothing of the sort, since every encounter on his show is carefully scripted and contrived, with little or no danger to the star. The REAL danger comes from Tuna’s gun-wielding father.

As a long-time fan of Hiaasen’s adult novels, I unknowingly picked up Chomp expecting more of the same. From the outset, though, the book seemed a little simple-minded, and the humor even broader and more obvious than I’d expected. I wasn’t aware that I failed to qualify as an intended reader. Still, the book was amusing, the characters rooted in a true if cockeyed version of reality, and the plot was rich. No reader should be surprised to learn that alligators, pythons, would-be vampires, and gun-wielding drunks turn up in this story, not to mention a hedonistic Hollywood producer.

Unfortunately, the feral ex-Governor is nowhere to be found in Chomp. I missed him.

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