You Know It’s Tough All Over…
…When even the usually reliable Carl Hiaasen can’t crack a joke.
I’m a devoted reader of Hiaasen’s fiction — I’ve even tracked down one of his early co-authored novels. And while rage at what the greedheads and buffoons have done to his beloved Florida animates everything he writes, he’s managed to retain both a capacity for awe and fun in the face of the absurdity that is that hallucination of a state.
So I had high hopes of some get-away-from-it all when I picked up his latest, Star Island. Some old favorites are back, notably Clinton Tyree, (aka Captain, aka Governor, aka Skink), and Chemo (don’t ask). It has a promising premise, involving a drug-and-fame-addled tone-deaf pop star, a plucky and lovely lookalike, an utterly unlovely papparazo, with a bit of real estate fraud, GBH by sea urchin, and more thrown in for spice. It looked good in the airport bookshop…
But nothing’s funny. I finished it over lunch today, and it turns out that no one has any righteous joy at even a temporary triumph over the forces of huckster-evil. No innocents wise up and save themselves amidst hilarity. There isn’t really even any righteous revenge: even when the sea-urchin attackee gets killed, it’s only for being a common or garden variety fraudster; his demise comes off stage; and he leaves us with only minimal Hiassen/Florida flamboyance.
For the rest? The book reads OK. There are a few fine set pieces — the best of which was Skink’s assault on the condo-deal tour bus. Hiaasen’s a pro, and his basic craft hasn’t deserted him. It’s only his astonished joy at the pure ridiculousness of his chosen home that’s MIA.
Hiaasen doesn’t write politics explicitly into his books — politicians, yes, but he mostly focuses on more generally human folly (to which are heir even Florida pols, only nominally accorded co-species status).
But the reality that he and we confront right now seems to have outstripped his capacity to mock. Florida, as so often, is once again a test tube environment in which national pathologies grow in virulence — and monotonously self-destructive people just aren’t funny. Just to take one of its most prominent current f**k-ups, Rick Scott is not to be cloaked with grandeur of any of these guys, but irony is a thin shield against the kind of implacable malice and/or stupidity that can find Hiaasen with every morning’s newspaper.
Nothing funny doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless; best not to laugh when there’s so much work to be done between now and November, 2012. And certainly, Rick Scott — whom I take here as a stand in both for Florida’s woes and the current disastrous state of the GOP nationally — is inducing some serious buyer’s remorse. But, while I know it is probably just me, reacting to one of my favorite summer authors having a down book, I have to say I was struck by how hard it is even for someone who has made a fine career out of laughing at life’s rich pageant just ain’t finding it easy to smile anymore.
Image: John Singer Sargent (sic! — color me surprised too), Muddy Alligators, 1917.