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Book Forum: Novels   |    
Skinny Dip
Am J Psychiatry 2005;162:2410-2411. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.162.12.2410
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Houston, Tex.

By Carl Hiaasen. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2004, 355 pp., $24.95; $12.95 (paper).

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It’s a fairly safe bet that many psychiatrists take themselves too seriously. This overly serious demeanor may even extend to their choice of reading matter. In fact, some may feel that when granted some rest and recreation during the holidays, they should spend their time with the likes of Henry James, A.S. Byatt, or (this may be an exaggeration) Thomas Pynchon. But guilty pleasures deserve a place on the bedside tables of our somber colleagues as well. Good storytelling stripped of lofty ambitions has its place and should warrant a visit to one’s favorite bookstore or web site no less than the latest annotated version of Ulysses.

Carl Hiaasen’s 11th novel, Skinny Dip, may provide pleasant diversion from unpleasant holiday houseguests who threaten to stir up ancient intrafamilial conflicts. We meet Chaz Perrone, a priapic marine biologist whose primary interest lies in scamming federal environmental agencies. Chaz takes bogus water samples in the endangered Florida Everglades and finds them surprisingly pollutant-free, in exchange for which he receives handsome payoffs from a thoroughly corrupt (and over-the-top) entrepreneur. Chaz is not troubled by pangs of conscience about his sullying of nature, however, because he just can’t understand all the fuss about the Everglades. Why would anyone care about a breeding ground for vermin ranging from the pesky (mosquitoes) to the dangerous (alligators and water moccasins).

Chaz fears that Joey Perrone, his rich and ravishing wife, knows a little too much about his scam and concludes that he has no alternative but to eliminate her. He tosses her overboard after a romantic evening on a cruise ship. Not known for thinking through the consequences of his actions, Chaz forgets that his wife was a champion swimmer in college. By turning the fall off the deck into a dive and swimming to a nearby island, Joey survives the murder attempt with the help of a handsome stranger who is at the right place at the right time.

Much of the remaining story is a tale of revenge and revolves around how Joey can terrorize her husband without letting him know that she is still alive. Some hilarious and improbable action ensues that will keep all but the most prudish reader amused and engaged. Colorful characters stroll across the stage as the narrative moves at breakneck speed toward its denouement. Hiaasen combines the noirish crime genre of Michael Connelly with the outrageous sense of humor of Dave Barry—not a bad combination for holiday reading at 35,000 feet during a transcontinental flight.

Hiaasen’s effort to incorporate a political message about saving the Everglades is a bit misplaced in this romp of a novel. Also, the poetic justice meted out in the end flies in the face of the basic axiom that life is unfair. Nevertheless, readers who refuse to think too hard are in for a satisfying—if instantly forgettable—ride.




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