Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Star Island / by Carl Hiaasen

Novelist Carl Hiaasen loves to hate on his home state of Florida. A lifelong resident of the lower peninsula, he has stated that the "Sunshine State is a paradise of scandals teeming with drifters, deadbeats and misfits drawn here by some dark primordial calling like demented trout. And you'd be surprised how many of them decide to run for public office."* The hilarity of his novels make it hard for the reader not to find themselves in on the joke, laughing along with him at this often sleazy though steadily popular region of the country and his latest caper is among his most fantastic. With scathing satire, he follows the cult of celebrity to South Beach where the stardom of a local teen queen pop star is shakily held together by a colorful collection of parents, promoters, publicists, bodyguards, body doubles, paparazzi and drug dealers.

Star Island in South Beach, Miami is exactly what sounds like: a place where celebrities and wannabe celebrities live in fabulously overpriced mansions. Julio Iglesias, P. Diddy, Madonna, Shaquille O'Neal and Gloria Estefan are just a few of the wealthy A-listers who claim residence on the artificial plot of imported sand which allows waterfront access to both the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay. Currently it's being used to do a photo shoot of Cheryl Bunterman, a teen pop sensation known to all her fans as "Cherry Pye" and who's gearing up to go on tour to promote her new CD Skantily Klad. Despite the fact that Cherry has absolutely no discernible singing talent, her actual voice likened to "sackful of starving kittens", and can only lip synch her lyrics and dance competently on a good night, the 22-year-old has made it to megastardom through the shrewd marketing tactics of her parents and promoters. Particularly it's been the work of her mother Janet and veteran talent agent Marty Lykus who've manipulated Cherry's casual good looks into a blend of sex appeal and youthful rebellion to create a brand of entertainment gold they've termed BLS--"Barely Legal Slut".
Of course with the fame and fortune have come some unpleasant repurcussions, namely Cherry's beyond addictive lifestyle to drugs, alcohol and promiscuity which have imperiled her legitimacy as a performer and the timing of her upcoming tour, not to mention her health and life exectancy. It's gotten so out of control that Cherry's handlers have hired a permanent lookalike, an out of work actress named Ann Delusia, to double as Cherry whenever the starlet herself OD's at a hotel or causes a scene at a club and needs to be stealthily evacuated away from the gloating paparazzi. Ann herself knows she's got a decent gig relatively speaking. Lately though things with Cherry have become so extreme, the pop tart's nightly binges needing medical attention and thus a stand-in to play her passed out in a backseat or even stretched out on a gurney, that Ann's decided to seriously reconsider her career options and definitely renegotiate her contract with Marty and the Buntermans. But before she can express any discontent to her employers, Ann is kidnapped. The peculiar looking man who abducts her goes by the name of Skink and is the type of Florida eccentric who lives in a shack in the Everglades and cooks his own Alligator meat. He's also an ecoterrorist who needs Ann as a pawn in one of his vigilante schemes to get revenge on a specifically greedy set of Florida real estate developers.
Carl Hiaasen just may be America's best comic novelist. Star Island is one of those books which is so laugh-out-loud funny that rereading certain segments becomes something you do on a Friday or Saturday night in place of normal good times. While Hiaasen's other novels have showcased his obvious talent for lampooning things like crooked politics and corrupt businessmen, none of his previous work has quite encompassed the world of our celebrity-obsessed culture like this. Following the trail of Cherry and her colorful crew of exploiters and parasites, most of them thoroughly sleazy characters though sly enough to milk the situation for all it's worth, is a heck of a toboggan ride down the starlet's path of scandalous self-implosion, each turn of the page a creating a new player with a new angle and a new nugget of tabloid gold. Throw in a few recurring characters like Skink and Cherry's cattle prod-toting bodyguard Chemo, each featured in other Hiassen favorites like Skin Tight and Skinny Dip, and the author's longtime readers as well as a great many novices new to the writer's unique brand of acerbic wit and zany plots are in for a real treat. (FIC HIAASEN)

*Kroft, Steve: "Florida: A Paradise Of Scandals" CBS News 60 Minutes, April 17, 2005

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