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Carl Hiaasen: Star Island
Unlike other novels that tell the stories of celebrities, Star Island doesn't focus on the glamour and wealth normally associated with fame. Instead, author Carl Hiaasen digs deeper and goes beyond the glamorous facades; he uses satire to shed light on the spoilt life of a 22-year-old blonde pop star, showing us in the process the downside to fame.
Cherry Pye is a chronically drunk pop star whose career is going to the dogs. Spoilt and talentless, Cherry's idea of singing doesn't extend beyond lip-synching. When her oblivious parents and savvy manager grow increasingly worried about the effects of her recklessness on her upcoming comeback album and their livelihood, they hire Chemo – a homicidal bodyguard who despises Cherry's family, has a prosthetic weed-whacker for a hand and is waiting for the perfect opportunity to quit his job, but succeeds in keeping Cherry's drunken activities in check.
Another blonde in her twenties is Ann DeLusia, an actress who is the carbon copy of Cherry and stands in for her as a double whenever the pop star overdoses or is too trashed to go out in public.
As the cliché dictates, the paparazzi are always on the lookout for celebrity scandals and cringe-worthy moments. To most of them, it's a job. But to Bang Abbott, an obese photographer, the job is a tad more personal. His unadulterated obsession with the crooner leads him to kidnapping her, only to find that he has mistakenly carjacked Ann, her stand-in.
Cherry's parents and entourage find themselves in a tight predicament when they have to rescue Ann from the deranged paparazzo without making her existence known to the public or to Cherry herself. As the plot progresses, readers find themselves faced with amusing situations as Abbott tries to blackmail Cherry's family into a private photo session with her in return for handing over Ann.
The posse of characters also includes Skink, a one-eyed former governor of Florida who has turned into an environmental vigilante. Skink befriends Ann and is the only person who actually cares about her kidnapping.
Star Island's plot is a bit complicated and hard to follow. Readers can easily get lost within the storyline and might even feel baffled by the many subplots. The novel lacks the depth required to make it believable, its pace is quite slow and its plot line is stale. It's a long story and several characters seem to be forced upon it rather than interwoven through the events.
Hiaasen also indirectly refers to real-life celebrities' recurring visits to rehabilitation centres. Despite the fact that the characters are eccentric and may be even considered insane, reading the novel will still give readers a laugh or two.
Joseph Anton was Rushdie’s pseudonym when he went into hiding, so it makes for a good title for a memoir detailing that particular part of his life. So one would assume the book details mostly that: the fatwa, its consequences and the efforts undertaken to void it. Unfortunately, there is a lot of toffee-nosed non-information one has to wade through to get to the interesting stuff.
The book is littered with numerous unnecessary references to several of his ‘beloved’, ‘amazing’ and ‘great’ friends such as Harold Pinter, Susan Sontag and Martin Amis. A good two pages are wasted detailing a dinner party at the home of then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. It would be more interesting to know how the fatwa was annulled (spoiler alert: it never actually officially was), not how Rushdie’s son Milan spent at least half an hour sitting on Tony Blair’s lap and how jolly a time was had by all.
Born and raised in Texas, Gretchen McCullough's teaching career has taken her to Egypt, Turkey and Japan; currently, McCullough teaches writing in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo.
Released earlier this year, her latest publication is titled ‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’; a compilation of short stories revolving around a host of eccentric individuals and their experiences in Cairo. A large bulk of the stories are driven by the thoughts rummaging through the characters minds and, more often than not, they transpire to be both charming and relatable.
‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’ has a colourful team of characters with strong presence, charisma and an air of familiarity. Digging deeper into their personal lives and problems, her writing style is distinct, bringing an American charm and non-linearity to her stories, which builds a pleasant intricacy.
With many of the characters connected by a single building in Garden City, McCullough allots the main characters in her stories as small cameos in others, spreading the characters' presence and allowing for further development.
In ‘A Little Honey and a Little Sunlight’, we are given insight into the raging nature of Professor Gary by his dying neighbour, Joe Pulaski - a poet - reminiscing his days spent living in Cairo. Many pages later in ‘Pure Water’, we find ourselves reading from the eyes of Dr Gary as he spends time with his bulky Greek friend, Kolombos, in a mental asylum before the uprising of January 25th. The title story, meanwhile, sees two main protagonists; journalist and teacher, Mary Beth Somers, and her dentist, Dr Samy. Far from sappy, the two fall into a love which avoids the overt romantic notions seen in cliched literature, despite ending on a melancholic note.
Aside from the characters, Cairo as a city is portrayed as an integral player in the stories. On regular occasions, vivid descriptions of popular places in the city are given, such as El Horreya, Windsor Bar, the Gezirah Club and Koshari Abou Tarek. Having visited all these places ourselves, it's obvious that McCullough has immersed herself in the city, and amongst its people, well beyond the point of a touristic escapade. She’s become a sort of semi-native, in touch with Cairene culture, but maintains enough outside insight to give a new perspective to those who’ve been living in the city for too long.
With its mix of emotions and interesting character troupe, ‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’ promises an entertaining, comforting read for both locals and foreigners alike.