Typically when Carl Hiaasen has a novel out, I go through a multiyear process which involves: observing the novel in hardcover on the bestseller table every time I visit Borders and longingly wishing I could afford it; then, eventually purchasing the paperback when it comes out a year later. Thus far my local Borders has been spared the indignity of closing but with the chain in bankruptcy proceedings, I can only imagine that its days are numbered. When I no longer have a chain bookstore within walking distance it is likely that I will degenerate into an illiterate grunt, because although I have long recognized the benefits of Amazon.com as a mail-order repository for books I am required to purchase by my professorial overlords, I still cannot get behind the concept of ordering pleasure reading online. I mean, realistically, how can I commit to the purchase of a novel if I have not picked it up and set it back down on the bestseller table at least 56 times over the course of at least 14 months? It takes me awhile to confirm my initial instincts that a work of fiction and I are destined to be together. And it takes, well, touching.
In the meantime, Borders is still open at least for now and so I have recently completed the long-term process of purchasing the wonderful Carl Hiaasen’s latest book, finally out in paperback, Star Island. Moreover, I have also completed reading it. Now to start, I must admit, this book is not without its problems. For one thing the plot involves a couple of kidnappings too many, but then, maybe that’s the point. Far be it from me to critique baroque plotting simply because it’s baroque. The characters, too, are somewhat, well, baroque. Cherry Pye, the “star” at the center of the story, is presumably meant as a grotesque composite of, say, Paris Hilton, Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan (to name a few). She is the daughter of money-grubbing stage parents, mentally daft, susceptible to the allure of most pills and alcohols, prone to boning whatever man is in sight, and incapable of singing which, fine, but also, and more impeachably from the POV of her handlers, of buckling down to memorize her lip-syncs. The greatest problem with Star Island, though, is the dialogue. Its characters speak in a jargon not used by actual Americans except in ESOL textbooks ca. 1992 (“smokin’ hot”; “That gnarly load?”). On the one hand, who cares because in 50 years, no one will know whether the slang the characters use was authentic or not. On the other hand, this isn’t the kind of book designed to be read in 50 years, so it kind of matters.
But actually none of that matters at all! Because ultimately Star Island succeeds, all things considered. First, like all of Hiaasen’s work it achieves a level of satire just close enough to realism that it makes you uncomfortable about, well, the real. Consider this comfortable reader duly afflicted. Second, like all of Hiaasen’s work it paints a vividly manic landscape of South Florida that makes you both glad you don’t live there and kind of sad you don’t. Third, the weakness of certain characters, and their dialogue, is more than offset by the dimensionality of certain other characters, whom you quickly grow to know and like. While likeable characters are not, of course, necessary for literary merit, they are, in my book of books, sufficient. Fourth, the plot is overly wrought as noted previously but, precisely because of that, fun to follow! Accordingly, I recommend Star Island highly. At least, to those few of us lucky enough to still have a Borders in walking distance, and also to those rest of us flying long-distance this summer and in need of a plane read. (You know, in case your iPad breaks or the plane wi-fi is out, which would be terrible because then how would you complain on Twitter about the plane wi-fi being out?!)