Sunday, December 26, 2010

Star Island by Carl Hiaasen - Book Review


Carl Hiaasen is, without a doubt, the most reliable humorous writer I've ever found.  His wicked sense of irony, crazy wacked out characters, and social satire combine to make me laugh and think simultaneously.  His latest, Star Island, stands up to his best previous novels, now at twelve and counting.  He's also written children's fiction and some non-fiction. I'm looking forward to reading his golf book and the one he wrote about Disney called Team Rodent.  Hiaasen's usual theme's are found in this hilarious romp through the celebrity-soaked world of Miami Beach and environs: the emptiness of popular culture, the corruption of politics, the despoilation of Florida's natural beauty, and the evil of rapacious real estate developers.  Reader's of Hiaasen's previous books are familiar with these themes and the author's genuine anger at what has been done to the state he loves combining with his knack for creating grotesque characters who rub up against ones you care about to create a wacky, but strangely believable, comic world. 

All of Hiaasen's novels are stand-alone efforts, but one of his most lovable and strange characters makes a return appearance in Star Island.  Former Florida governor Clinton Tyree, elected many years as a reform candidate and driven to madness by the combination of his experiences as a Vietnam vet and his disillusion at the depth of depraved corruption he experiences in the state's political system.  After abruptly resigning, he disappears, only to reappear in several of the books as the seemingly deranged Skink, a one-eyed, swamp rat who lives on road kill and finds it nearly impossible to function in modern society.  The sadness of his quest is lightened by the quirky solutions he devises to right the wrongs in society.

Cherry Pye is a completely unwound and untalented pop singer, a strange simulacrum of Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan, managed by her exploitive parents and a group of leeches living off the very much threatened gravy train she keeps threatening to wreck through her continuing use of drugs and nutty sexual exploits.  Bang Abbott, the absurdly smelly and fat papparozzo who follows her from rehab in California to near self-destruction in South Beach, Miami.  Cherry is kept from total annihilation by her delightful double, the unflappable Ann DiLuisa, who is kidnapped by Bang Abbott and  helped along the way by our old friend, Skink.  Chemo, a scary body guard with a weed wacker head for left hand, adds to the merriment.  Hiaasen has a Dickensian facility with naming his subsidiary characters: race driver - Nils Creosoto, porn star - Rod Harder, and clothing designer - Ermengildo Zagna.  There's no use trying to reprise the plot. The secret of really enjoying a Hiassen novel is sitting back and enjoying its progress while being drawn in by his dead-on caricatures of people those of us who've spent time in Florida have come to loathe for what they've achieved.  

Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiassen has been a reporter at the Miami Herald since 1976.  He spent several years doing investigative journalism specializing in environmental and development issues before becoming a regular columnist. In recent years his column has appeared weekly in the Herald.  As with many fine humorists, Hiaasen has serious ends in mind while managing to remain almost endlessly entertaining.  Also, as with much humor reading, I wouldn't recommend reading his books one right after the other.  Rather, allow some time between books to let the previous one settle out before starting the next.  That having been said, however, he maintains a remarkably high level of performance between books.  In Star Island Hiaasen is at the top of his game.

Star Island  is published by Knopf and sells in hard cover for $26.95.  It's available in trade paperback, e-book format, and as a recorded book.  Support your local independent book store.
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