People ask me all the time who my favorite writer is, and I always say something like, "Aw, I suck at favorites, here's bunch I like." But you know what? Secretly, my favorite writer is Carl Hiaasen -- specifically, his crime novels (though I'll trade a book of his essays or one of his brilliant kids' books for most any other book in the same field). After a four year hiatus, Hiaasen is back at crime novels with Star Island, a book that had me laughing so hard I was in danger of rupturing something important.
Cherry Pye (nee Cheryl Bunterman) is a semi-underage, self-regarding, lip-synching pop star created out of raw greed: hers, her parents', and her scumbag promoter's. She's so whacked out on star-power (AKA vodka, Red Bull, a rainbow of pharmaceuticals, and weirdly, laxatives and birdseed) (don't ask) that she needs her own body-double: Ann DeLusia, an out-of-work actor who's job it is to appear in public, pretending to be Cherry Pye while Cherry herself gets her stomach pumped or is dried out at a tony rehab.
But when a semi-homicidal, loathsome (and, weirdly, Pulitzer-winning) paparazzo named Claude becomes obsessed with Cherry and her no-doubt-imminent OD demise, the peaceful equilibrium of the "singer"'s life is shattered. What unfolds is classic Hiaasen, a series of misadventures involving some of my favorite characters from Hiaasen's other crime novels -- Skink, the feral ex-governor of Florida and Chemo, the 7-foot-tall, one-armed bumbling hitman whose face looks like it was mauled by a cheese-grater (don't ask) and whose left forearm has been augmented with a strap-on, battery-powered weed-whacker.
Hiaasen is so totally, utterly over-the-top in his humor, and so completely spot-on in his pop-culture skewerage (here he tackles stardom, PR, botox, blogging, Twitter, digital photography, subprime crises, and numerous other contemporary subjects) and yet so deft at creating incredibly likable protagonists and real dramatic tension that he redefines what "screwball" can mean.
I read Star Island over a weekend, sneaking away to cadge another page or two every few minutes, staying up late, getting up early. When I finished it, all I could say, was "Goddamn, that was a great book," over and over again, for about 20 minutes. It's a wonder my family didn't strangle me.
Published 9:49 am Mon, Dec 13, 2010