Star Island (abandoned)

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.

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24 Responses to Star Island (abandoned)

  1. christina says:

    Even though he’s a Floridian like myself (and I love to support local authors) I could never get into his books. I’ve skimmed them at best and have set him aside.

  2. Iris says:

    I’m often hesitant to pick up books that are meant to be “funny” because I’m afraid I wouldn’t get it. I don’t think this would be a book for me either.

  3. This sounded quite broad from a review I read of it- I’ve never read Carl Hiaasen, but there’s apparently a running gag whenever Cherry Pye uses “annoying” terminology like “totally”, “sweet”, “hot”, or “sick”, she gets tasered by a member of her entourage. That’s just much too broad for a book satire for me; it might work in a film, but not in a book.

    • Teresa says:

      Yikes! I hadn’t gotten to that part yet, but it seems like something that would happen. And I agree that it could work in a film–I’m thinking of the Coen Brothers’ kinds of films in particular.

  4. Just thought I’d mention the name of a fantastic satirical writer: Max Barry, author of Jennifer Government and The Company. He’s exceptionally perceptive and is bravely critical of corporate life and, as the title suggests, the government. If you’re looking for a laugh (with a few insights) he’s a great author to try.

  5. farmlanebooks says:

    I read a Carl Hiaasen a few years ago (sorry – I can’t remember which!) and didn’t find it funny either. I rarely find books funny – for some reason I need to listen or see comedy or it doesn’t really work.

    • Teresa says:

      I agree with you Jackie that humor in books is really hard to pull off. I’ve read plenty of books that I find funny, but few outright comedies make my favorites lists.

  6. Steph says:

    I was offered an ARC of this one to read and review but decided to pass because the premise alone didn’t really appeal to me. I’m so glad I chose to nix this one because it really doesn’t sound like my kind of funny at all. It seems too load and in your face… Sounds like you made the right choice abandoning this one.

  7. Patty says:

    I totally agree…I see him at interviews on The Today Show and he is such an appealing man and yet I strongly do not like any of his books…oh well…

  8. Jenny says:

    Sounds worthy of abandonment. I wouldn’t say that I invariably avoid books that are described as “funny”, but it’s definitely not a draw for me. I tend to find that funny books get tedious after a little while, as humor is hard to sustain over the long term. Not to be dogmatic, but as a rule I would say that “funny” should not be the point of a book.

    • Teresa says:

      I don’t mind a book that’s pure comedy–I’d describe Wodehouse as pretty much nothing but silliness. The problem for me is that it’s just so hard to pull off, and I think you’re right that it can wear thin after a while if there isn’t something else.

  9. I’m relieved to read that I am not the only one who just wasn’t into Hiaasen, closed the book not to return. A few years back our book group decided to read one of his books, I think it was Striptease, and I just couldn’t get into it, try as I might. Interestingly enough, a few of our members who I was sure would not even get as far as me loved him and went on to read more. Oh well. We don’t all look good in the same style of dress.

    • Teresa says:

      Seems like there are a lot of us who aren’t that into Hiaasen! Humor is such an idiosyncratic thing that I think it’s hard to predict what anyone will like, including myself sometimes!

  10. gaskella says:

    I too have tried and abandoned Hiassen – one of his previous novels for me – can’t remember which! I do love Elmore Leonard though for black comedy – Maximum Bob is a personal fave, and Jackie Brown (Rum Punch) was brilliant too.

    • Teresa says:

      Oh, Elmore Leonard! I don’t think I’ve read anything of his, but I’ve seen film adaptations of his work and liked them (especially Out of Sight). I always think of him as a crime writer, but thinking of Get Shorty, I can see why he’d fall in the humor column as well.

  11. trapunto says:

    Wow, does anyone like Hiassen? “No middle ground”–right on the nose. I had the same experience with The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living.

  12. trapunto says:

    …and that was by Martin Clark. Duhr. But it was still exactly the same experience!

    So I cannot claim to dislike Hiassen because I have not read him.

    • Teresa says:

      :) Seems like this is the common experience with comic novels. They either work for you or they don’t.

      And I remember when that Mobile Home book came out. I intentionally avoided it. I used to live in a mobile home, and I figured the book would make me all grumbly because it would probably be with it stereotypes that annoy me.

  13. Pingback: Star Island – Carl Hiaasen « Bibliophage's Buffet

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