About this time last year, I was reading a novel by Carl Hiaasen, the ultimate writer of Florida men, while lounging in the Florida sun. This week, I read a novel by Carl Hiassen while lying under multiple blankets on my couch in New Jersey, a state that feels like it has been stuck on permanent gray for the last six weeks. This photo, which I took in my bathroom, matches the general vibe (though after telling myself I wasn’t making my annual trek south this year, I cracked. Expect a Florida-themed photo on this site next month).

This time around, the Hiaasen book of choice is Lucky You, a 1997 novel about two people who win the lottery. One is JoLayne Lucks, an animal lover who plans to use a portion of her winnings to buy and preserve a plot of undeveloped land so it won’t be paved over. The other is Bode, an asshole who wants to use the money to fund a white nationalist militia.

They each had a ticket for one $28 million jackpot, but Bode, being an asshole, gets greedy and decides $14 million isn’t enough. He has his equally assholish friend Chub (they go by first names here because they’re “cool” i.e. “dicks”) beat up JoLayne, steal her ticket, and plan to claim the whole prize.

This is all set against the backdrop of a fictional town called Grange, whose biggest tourist draw is a panoply of faked religious sights, including a Virgin Mary statue that cries tears, a road stain in the shape of Jesus, and a stigmata man. Bode and Chub figure out who has the ticket because there’s only one place in Grange to play the lottery, and even two duds like Bode and Chub could figure it out (a warning about language: Bode and Chub are white nationalists, and they say a lot of horrible things, especially about JoLayne, who is Black).

Like all Hiaasen works, Lucky You is weird and funny and often stupid and dark. But it was sometimes depressing because a lot of the themes running through this book — white nationalism, racism, worship of guns, out of control development of Florida’s natural resources, and the shrinking size of newspapers — is worse now than in 1997. I went to college in Florida, with my first semester in the fall of 1998. It was an odd state then. I don’t know if I recognize it now except as an amplification of its worst parts.

My only quibble with Lucky You is that it had one too many subplots (I’d have cut that of a mob that also wanted to buy the same plot of land as JoLayne) but it wasn’t overly distracting.

I checked to see if it had ever been made into a movie or TV show — not that I could find, but it was put on as a play at the 2008 Edinburgh Festival. You can hear Hiaasen talk about it here. No air date yet for the Apple TV+ adaptation Bad Monkey, but Vince Vaughn was spotted filming in Key West last summer.

I would also like to thank the person who keeps leaving Hiaasen books in the local Little Free Library (this one is signed by the author) I enjoy his novels, but I don’t ever think to buy one if I’m in an actual bookstore. The next book in this series is the same way (unless I finish the audiobook I’m listening to first). So stay tuned!

Nail polish: Award for Best Nails Goes to… by OPI

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.

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