Apparently I am humor-deficient because I just didn’t find anything funny about the first 120 pages of Carl Hiaasen’s new novel, Star Island. The premise is promising. A hot young singer with the stage name Cherry Pye is trying to launch a new album, but she’s usually too drunk or drugged up to appear in public, so her parents and PR people hire a double to throw the paparazzi off the scent. Bang Abbott, a former legit news photographer turned paparazzo, is determined to get a “Marilyn Monroe” shot of Cherry when she finally succumbs to all her addictions, so he follows her around, waiting for the moment when he can pounce.
Certainly the entertainment industry PR machine is ripe for satire. What lengths might Cherry’s handlers have to go to in order to keep her image relatively clean? To get her to do something that will actually make money and not just headlines? I could see a smart satire of this bit of the industry working quite well. Plus, I’ve been meaning to try Hiaasen for years. So when I spotted a stack of advance copies of this book at the American Library Association conference, I grabbed one.
Alas, it seems that Hiaasen, or at least this book, just isn’t for me. I’m not hating it, but I’m also not getting it. I was expecting something like Christopher Buckley’s Thank You for Smoking, really smart, snappy, and outrageous. But I think what made Buckley’s book work was the voice of his main character and first-person narrator. Hiaasen’s third-person perspective, in contrast, only enables us to see the action—we just get passing glances of the characters’ thoughts.
That lack of a smart, snappy narrator would be okay, I suppose, if the action were interesting, but it isn’t. Much of the show-biz comedy doesn’t stretch all that far beyond what we might imagine such a world to be like. There are a few outrageous, surprising moments with Cherry and her entourage, as well as with Bang Abbott, but they are not enough to keep my interest. And then when it’s over the top, it’s too over the top. There’s no middle ground. You’ve either got a boring paparazzo stalking a boring drunken starlet, or you’ve got a bodyguard with a weed whacker for a hand and a former governor getting naked and taking people hostage (for a righteous reason, but sort of off-topic for this book).
So my lack of engagement has led me, after 123 of 337 pages, to give up on this book. I can’t say it’s a bad book. I am very hard to please when it comes to comedy, and I imagine there are plenty of people who would like this. But overall, the comedy is too broad and the plot too busy for my tastes. It’s possible that it improves in the final 2/3, but I still get the sense that it’s not my sort of comedy. I may give Hiaasen another chance someday, but based on this experience, it’s unlikely. I’m sure I could find other authors better able to make me laugh.