Touching novel exposes eccentric characters


Maria Eberhart, Editor-in-chief

“When did life get so loud.” Protagonist Will Larkin, in the light-hearted novel “Float Plan,” contemplates this while serving potato bread at a soup kitchen for his court-mandated community service. Following a series of unfortunate circumstances involving a gazebo attack, a wrestling unitard and a dead basset hound, Will finds himself overwhelmed by life’s loudness. Late journalist Rob Hiaasen finds the humor in the struggles of his quirky, likeable characters in “Float Plan,” a touching story of overcoming life’s mishaps.

Hiaasen, who was killed in the Capital Gazette shooting June 28, tinkered with the novel on and off for three decades, detailed in his wife, English teacher Maria Hiaasen’s foreword. Published posthumously Sept. 15 by Loyola University Maryland’s Apprentice House Press to honor Hiaasen’s dedication to crafting a novel, proceeds are donated to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control.

The novel follows Will, an algebra teacher at an Annapolis high school with striking similarities to Dulaney: “floating” teachers, tacky, inspirational posters, mastery grading. These comedic riffs on public education from the viewpoint of a slightly jaded, veteran teacher are a pleasure to read. As a student, it’s interesting to hear the teacher perspective on pervasive Chick-Fil-A lunch outings and helicopter parents. But Will’s seemingly stable life goes awry over the course of one disastrous year when his English teacher wife divorces him, two violent outbursts leave him jobless and on unstable legal ground and his father’s progressing Alzheimer’s sparks painfully awkward, saddening moments. In the face of these hardships, Will crafts a float plan, typically a guide to help retrieve a missing boat, to recover his life. The heart of this plan: Parker Cool. Will is immediately captivated by the poetry-loving, vet technician Parker Cool. A quirky character herself, Parker, a young mother who has recently left her cheating boyfriend, is similarly charmed by the “left-brainer” Will Larkin. The unlikely love affair sparks sweet, humorous interactions. Will’s relentless pursuit of Parker, despite numerous setbacks, is at times uncomfortable and agonizing to read, but overall engaging due to the subtle wit of Hiaasen’s writing.

My favorite parts of “Float Plan” are undeniably Will’s monthly meet ups with his best high school friends. The hilarious, often crude conversations between Will, Mack, an ex-financial planner, and Kyle, a reporter, are keenly portrayed, reflecting characters I have seen in my own life. Exchanging insults and discussing women, it’s less than “delicate communication” between the trio. And when Mack moves in with Will, his often alcohol-fueled thoughts and decisions lead to the most comical of circumstances, including the impulsive purchase of an exotic pet. Hiaasen’s ability to create such unique yet authentic characters, using years of observational notes scrawled in moleskin notebooks, makes it an incredibly enjoyable novel.

Marylanders are sure to appreciate the countless mentions of state sights. While mostly set in Annapolis, those more familiar with the Baltimore area will recognize references to the Corner Stable, Senator theatre and even Parkview Memorial Gardens. With the lack of Maryland-set stories, it’s always exciting to read something warmly portraying your home town.