Novelist Carl Hiaasen likes to create scenarios where very bad and tremendously satisfying things happen to despicable people: crooked politicians, real-estate scammers, environment despoilers, greedy bastards of all stripes. This theme has run through 12 darkly comic, satiric novels. And if you’ve hit the wall with LindsayBritneyParis and the paparazzi who stalk them, his latest, Star Island, is for you. It features a narcissistic young singer, Cheryl Bunterman, who is renamed Cherry Pye by her money-mad, value-deficient parents. We also get Bang Abbott, a slob paparazzo indifferent to everything but the money shot, plus the usual cast of environmental fiends, and the return of the vengeance-minded, half-crazed ex-governor Skink.
A long-time Miami Herald columnist, the 57-year-old Hiaasen lives in Vero Beach. He spoke with me from Montana, where he was on vacation prior to kicking off a book tour — and prior to BP’s capping of the Deepwater Horizon leak. We talked about BP, celebrity culture, and his friend Warren Zevon.
Are you enjoying the $50 million BP PR campaign about all the good things they’re doing now in the gulf?
Oh, yeah, it brings a lump to my throat. It’s slick. They had to find the visual antithesis of Tony Hayward. If they do succeed in capping it, they’ll expect some sort of heroic response. I think the perfect icon for them would be an oil-splattered pelican gagging on crude.
Fodder for your next novel?
I don’t know. I’m still sort of in the depleted aftershock of finishing this book, so it’s hard to think ahead, but the trouble in writing satire is, how do you trump Tony Hayward? How do you devise a character more outlandish for the purposes of satire than what we’ve already witnessed? You end up getting trumped by real life so often. I don’t know how to tackle the oil spill, because it’s already on a tragic scale of self-parody.
With Cherry Pye, you don’t seem too far off the real-life mark.
Part of that is, I wanted to make her fairly plausible. Obviously, some of the details are twisted, but the main artifice I wanted was to have someone who is trashed so much, they have to hire someone portraying her going out to get trashed. That I don’t find all that far-fetched. And if you’re going to write about vanity and fatuous self-adoration, the only possible setting is South Beach.
She’s a composite?
She’s really my reaction to the deluge of marginally talented young singer-actresses who we’re bombarded with the most intimate details of their personal life. Obviously, there’s an appetite for this so-called news, but somebody’s got to be a gatekeeper. Honestly, do we really give a rat’s ass? But the amount of resources that go into tracking these numbnuts from one bad night club to another, if you’re the sort of person who writes satire, you have to sink your fangs into that. I imagine Darwin sitting somewhere up high, looking down, saying, “I told you the conclusion would be, human evolution has come to a screeching halt, and it’s now shoved into reverse.”