Sunday, December 5, 2010
Carl Hiaasen's Striptease
I thought that my loyal readers, all four of you, might be tired of Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh by now. So I read a tawdry comic novel about SEX. I know, this is perfect reading for the penitential season of Advent.
Florida author Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. All of his novels are set in Florida. Hiaasen is an environmentalist who laments the passing of pristine old Florida and the coming of tourists and developments. (In Hiaasen’s first novel, Tourist Season, which I am in the process of reading now, the plot involves “environmental terrorists” who are killing tourists). Striptease (1993) is Hiassen’s commentary on the exploitative practices of big commercial sugar growers.
At the outset, let me say that Striptease is a much better novel than the awful movie with Demi Moore and Burt Reynolds. One of the reasons that this doesn’t work as a movie is that this book really has no stars. It’s an ensemble of madcap characters. The movie would have been much better with a group of unknowns and B-actors rather than a couple of stars. There are entire chapters of the book in which the characters played by Demi Moore and Burt Reynolds do not appear.
Striptease is the story of Erin Grant. Erin’s ex-husband, Darrell, is a petty thief who is a professional wheel chair thief. That’s right, wheelchairs. Darrell goes around stealing wheelchairs from hospitals and nursing homes and then selling them back to other hospitals and nursing homes. Erin works as a secretary at the local FBI office until she is fired for being married to a man with a criminal record.
Darrell, who is an informant for the local police, is able to get his criminal record expunged and fights Erin for custody of their small daughter. Erin, who is desperate to get money to pay her expensive lawyer fees, becomes a stripper because she can make more in a night than she would make in a week at an ordinary job. Everything goes fine until one night when U.S. Congressman David Dilbeck comes in the club and breaks a champagne bottle over another customer’s head. Congressman Dilbeck has a problem: he LOVES NAKED WOMEN but he goes crazy when he's around them.
Dilbeck is chairman of the committee in the House of Representatives which oversees Federal farm subsidies for sugar farmers. The Rojo brothers who own the largest sugar operation in South Florida have Dilbeck in their pocket and want to make sure he gets re-elected and keeps getting them their subsidy. In the educational part of this comic romp, Hiaasen lectures us on how big sugar imports migrant workers from the Caribbean to harvest sugar cane for next to nothing in wages and pollutes the environment by dumping waste water in the Everglades.
A guy in the strip club wants to get a date with Erin. He recognizes Dilbeck and tries to blackmail him to get Dilbeck to contact the judge and “fix” Erin’s child custody case. The plan backfires and the Rojo brothers’ hit man takes care of him. He winds up floating down a river in Montana where Miami homicide detective Al Garcia (one of Hiaasen’s recurring characters) happens to be vacationing. In short order, everybody who knows about Dilbeck being in the strip club fight begins to disappear . . . You get the idea. If anybody who hasn’t read this wants to read it, I don’t want to spoil the fun.
This novel is full of one joke and outrageous situation after another. For instance, the name of the strip club Erin works at, “The Eager Beaver,” has to be changed when the owner is sued for trade mark infringement by the Eager Beaver Chain Saw Company. A local judge, who carries a Bible to the gentleman’s club with him so that he can say that he is just there to witness to sinners, dies while getting a lap dance. Apparently, the judge just had too much excitement and when the young lady removed her bustier his head exploded and the judge died from a cerebral hemorrhage. And on and on and on. Striptease is a very funny book.
Readers might tend to think that all of Hiaasen’s outrageous characters and situations are all made up and couldn’t possibly happen in real life. However, after growing up in the deep South and practicing law in South Georgia for almost twenty years, I personally am aware of personalities and situations which are not too far removed from Hiaasen’s madcap South Florida. For instance, there was the client whose Dale Earnhardt memorabilia collection was worth more than the trailer she lived in . . . I could go on.
Striptease was a lot of fun. I will definitely be reading more Hiaasen.