by Carl Hiaasen
WHEN I BOUGHT MY COPY OF STRIP TEASE, I noticed a veritable thicket of blurbs praising the writing, the plot, the humor, you name it. One blurb I did not notice until much later featured the adjective "gonzo." But by then it was too late; I had paid my money and taken my chances.
Judging from the blurbs, the ubiquitousness of Carl Hiaasen's books, and the fact that Strip Tease was released as a movie starring Demi Moore, I must assume that lots of people like Hiaasen's writing. (True, the movie flopped. There's still no denying the popularity of Hiaasen's books, however.) Hiaasen looks like a pleasant enough sort of guy in his publicity photo. So maybe I'm just out of step, but I found Strip Tease pretty ugly.
I guess I just don't like gonzo.
Perhaps I was naive to buy the book in the first place. What was I expecting? I was expecting more of the humor the blurbs promised me, mixed, I admit, with a little titillation. What I got was gonzo. I was ill prepared for gonzo. That's to be expected--eastern Nebraska, where I grew up, is not the gonzo sort of place south Florida would seem to be, and I've never visited a strip club.
So what is gonzo, anyway? It's crude, tasteless, violent, cynical, vengeful. Gonzo concentrates on the dregs of society. Gonzo literature sets up hateful villains, then invites the reader to cheer as they are subjected to dehumanizing revenge by their former victims or dispatched in bizarre twists of fate brought about by their own vices.
Strip Tease paints a pretty ugly picture of men. Most of the men in the book are unprincipled, greedy, lustful, and easily manipulated by women. I guess all of this venality is supposed to be humorous. Congressman David Lane Dilbeck, who has a weakness for strippers, cowboy duds, and Vaseline, is supposed to be a hilariously perverse figure, but in my opinion, the perversity overwhelms the hilarity. Because men are such scum, violence against them is permissible. The male genitalia are frequently the target of attack: I noted a blow with a pool cue, a shooting, a scalding (threatened but not executed), and a snake bite. Yes, a snake bite. You'll have to read the book if you want details.
There are some good men in this book, but they're a tiny minority. One or two cops and an FBI agent qualify. It strikes me as very revealing that Shad, the enormous, nigh-invulnerable bouncer--a man who bites a CD in half because the disc jockey won't stop playing it, assaults a therapist for asking about his mother, and likes to break the ulnas of troublemakers--is one of the good guys. Once again, all this is supposed to be funny, but it goes too far. It's gonzo. Shad's chivalry toward the strippers and his protection of Erin, the main character, don't change the fact that he is practically a homicidal maniac.
Women fare somewhat better than men. Still, it tells you something about the niveau of the story that some of the nicest characters are strippers.
Religion takes a real drubbing. There is no dearth of professing Christians, but every last one of them is a hypocrite. The adulterous Congressman Dilbeck, for example, is a deacon in the church. Judaism doesn't fare much better. Of the three Jews in this book, two are depicted as trying to commit blackmail. When the third decides to become a rabbi, the decision seems to spring less from faith than from a desire to escape the violent, seedy mileau of the strip club.
I don't mean to imply that there is no humor whatsoever in Strip Tease. Some of it is truly funny. An unsavory character smiles, "exposing the pointy dentation of the lower primates." Shad has seen naked women daily for such a long time that he becomes intensely attracted to a stripper simply because she has her clothes on. Two strippers named Monique work at the same club, and since neither one is willing to change her name, they go by "Monique Sr." and "Monique Jr." I could go on, but I don't want to spoil the book for anyone who's still planning to read it.
The dialogue rings true, by which I mean that it seems authentic to the characters and that it is laced with profanity. How else would these people talk? One question, though: does everyone in south Florida use the expression "no earthly (fill in the blank)"? Examples: "No earthly reason"; "no earthly idea." If Hiaasen is to be believed, speakers from every sort of background rely on this turn of phrase. And while we are on the topic of linguistic oddities, what about the Japanese owners of the strip club that competes with the one where Erin and the Moniques work, the dastardly Ling Brothers? Ling Brothers? Why are Japanese entrepreneurs given an obviously Chinese name?
Is Strip Tease for you? Maybe. It's well written. The plot is involving. There are moments of humor. The characters are memorable. The bad guys get what's coming to them. All in all, it's not a bad read--if you can take gonzo.
Edited November 26, 1996 / Updated December 13, 1996
Copyright ©1996 by Steven R. Solomon. All rights reserved.
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