Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Downhill Lie: A Hacker's Return to a Ruinous Sport, by Carl Hiaasen

You might think that the only thing more boring than golf is a book about golf. Especially a book about golf written by a person who isn't good at golf and doesn't even like the game that much. But if the author of the book is Carl Hiaasen, that creates a glimmer of hope that the book just might be somewhat entertaining.

Even though much of the book is a stroke by stroke account of one depressing golf game after another, documenting his lack of progress and his frustration therewith, Hiaasen does intersperse some amusing anecdotes and even manages to wedge in some political commentary:

"It's sobering to contemplate how many bribes have been negotiated in this country during casual rounds of golf. there ought to be a law that anytime a politician and a lobbyist tee off together, the foursome must be rounded out by two FBI agents." (p.119)
What really makes this book worthwhile is its personal tone. Parts of it are presented as actual journal entries, and the overall tone is confessional, full of dramatized self-loathing and Eeyore-like pessimism, made funny with literary skill. Hiaasen's attempts at improving his golf game are also a source of humor--he'll try anything, from a magical pendant to attention-focusing pills (which he keeps misplacing and forgetting to take). He also spends big bucks on books, equipment and lessons, but mostly what he learns is, "when you suck, you suck."

Though he is no big threat on the golf course, scoring-wise, Hiaasen is something of a hazard to wildlife, ironically so, considering his reputation as a nature-lover. He uses his nine-iron to loft bufo toads out of his friend's yard into the neighbor's yard. When rats chew the wiring in his car, he clobbers the whole rat family in its nest with a specially weighted training club. The turtles he beans with errant balls are more in the category of collateral damage, but I still was surprised at his lack of remorse, in light of the fury he has unleashed in his books on habitat destroyers of all kinds.

I've read most of Hiaasen's books and newspaper columns. I have wondered what he is like in real life. This book partly answers the question. Apparently, he is a loner who loves his family. A perfectionist who accepts his limitations. He would be more of a curmudgeon if not for his wife and young son, who keep reminding him that there is fun to be had, and his mother, who keeps him emotionally honest. I predict that he will continue to play golf, even if it continues to make him suffer.

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