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Kick Ass: Carl Hiaasen’s Book Does Exactly What it Says

October 19, 2008 By Matt Meltzer in Miami: Local News  | 2 Comments


When University of Florida Press Director Meredith Morris-Babb is asked how she allowed a book to be published with a semi-profane title, she laughs in response.

“Have you read Carl Hiaasen?” she asks. “’Kick Ass.’ That’s pretty much what he does.” Much to the chagrin of many a South Florida politician, crooked developer and environmental opponent, Morris-Babb is right.

“Kick Ass” is a collection of Hiaasen’s editorial columns from the Miami Herald covering 1985-1999. It is by no means a complete, or even all-encompassing collection. But what this book does is chronicle the carnival of the absurd that is life in South Florida.

The title is not meant to be a shocking vulgarity. It is actually more a description of what Hiaasen believes is the role of the metropolitan editorial columnist. The back jacket of the book offers up a quote from the author:

“You just cover a lot of territory and you do it aggressively and you do it fairly and you don’t play favorites and you don’t take prisoners…You just kick ass. That’s what you do. And that’s what they pay you to do.”

We can forgive Hiaasen’s run-on sentences, as the rest of the book is written in much of this aggressive yet objective fashion. Save for a few columns on environmental issues, Hiaasen doesn’t seem to have much of an agenda in his writings, other than to point out to the readers of the Miami Herald exactly how messed up their city is.

In “Kick Ass,” Hiaasen takes on every strange and unusual aspect of life in Miami with flare and an always biting sarcasm.

The book does not have much of a running storyline, although nefarious characters like Humberto Hernandez, Miller Dawkins and Art Teele keep showing up time and time again. Jorge Mas Canosa, head of the Cuban American National Fund and the apparently force behind most of Miami’s political corruption, is a popular scapegoat as well. But the story here is of a city transforming itself from Leisure Village to global village and the growing pains that come with it.

His depictions of the destruction of Hurricane Andrew are sad and maddening at the same time. His indictment of Lennar and other quick-draw homebuilders fully illustrates how greed and corruption can sometimes have farther-reaching consequences what the perpetrators had anticipated.

But even at his most critical, Hiaasen always injects humor into his editorials. When he writes about crooked judges getting caught with cocaine and freebasing paraphernalia, it’s not sad, it’s absurdly funny. When the city manager is removed for taking bribes, it’s not a tragedy, it’s just another comedic example of why nobody should ever take any politician in South Florida seriously. Ever.

Hiaasen writes with both the passion to see the city return to the ideal place he remembers from his childhood and the careless apathy of someone who has seen enough to know the place is too far gone. He occasionally suggests ways to fix problems in South Florida, like not paving over every inch of the Everglades or instilling stiffer home inspection standards, but most of the columns in “Kick Ass” are written ways of Hiaasen throwing his arms in the air and saying, “Here we go again. I just give up.”

While Hiaasen, a native South Floridian (yes, such things DO exist in people over 25) laments the passing of a city he once knew, the more he writes about the city the more one wonders if he is idealizing the past. Was Miami really ever such a great, pristine, upstanding city? Or is Hiaasen just chronicling the continued surreality that the city produces?

The writing can at times become preachy, and Hiaasen occasionally sounds as if he is up on his soapbox telling us all what’s wrong with the city. This is especially true when he begins writing about the environment and development. Though he is an editorial columnist, and therefore not really required to examine both sides of an issue, his comments on development and environmentalism are the only things that leave room for debate. Not too many people will argue with his indictments of crooked land deals or brutal cops, but on issues of controversy Hiaasen becomes a bit preachy.

Unlike in his fictional works, Hiaasen is at his best when he is bringing down the high and mighty. The columns in “Kick Ass” are what got him to where he is today. Had he not been brazenly documenting the corruption and greed that is Miami in the editorial pages, his books may have never come to fruition. His greatest talent is in spotting what is going on, carrying it to an extreme, and making us all laugh at it.

While many outside of South Florida only know him for his hilarious satirical fiction, to a Miamian Carl Hiaasen will always be the man we see in “Kick Ass.” He is the great scribe of the rise of the South Florida population and its corresponding moral decline, but he makes us laugh along with him as he watches the bizarre unfold. Carl Hiaasen takes on Miami, and even though most of the time the good he champions does not win, the author himself still manages to “Kick Ass.”

Related Categories: Hiaasen Reviews Miami: Local News,

About the Author: Matt Meltzer is a featured columnist at Miami Beach 411.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer

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2 Comments on

"Kick Ass: Carl Hiaasen’s Book Does Exactly What it Says"

Rick says:

Link is broken, guys.

Posted on 10/19/2008 at 8:22 PM

Gus says:

Thanks, Rick. We got it working now.

Posted on 10/20/2008 at 7:42 AM

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