Having ingested a mix of "vodka, Red Bull, hydrocodone, birdseed and stool softener," pop singer Cherry Pye lies naked, "twitching like a poisoned cockroach on the carpet."
Star Island, Carl Hiaasen's 12th novel, skewers the cult of celebrity. Cherry's rabid stage mom blames tummy problems for all the trips to the emergency room; her music promoter "nurses a criminal fondness for underage girls"; and a crazed paparazzo is out to kidnap her.
There's a lot at stake because Cherry, who supports a "colony of leeches," is about to embark on a major comeback tour. During her last concert, immortalized on YouTube, she tried crystal meth just before going on, totally lost the ability to lip-sync, and mooned the jeering crowd before passing out.
Hiaasen and I spoke at his publisher's office in Manhattan.
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Question: Cherry is a "barely legal slut" who is just plain stupid and spoiled, so how did she become a star?
Answer: People who are dumb as a box of rocks have often been pushed into some form of celebrity. Some of these poor kids are a manufactured product, so it's no wonder they delaminate.
But even the celebrity catastrophes, the shoplifting, the drunken episodes, the rehabs are choreographed.
Q: Why is the celebrity business thriving when it's clearly so bogus?
A: The public appetite for this is endless. There's an instinctive hunger to be pleasantly diverted from what the real headlines are.
We have two wars, an incredible economic slump, a huge oil spill, and people are more interested in Mel Gibson's vocabulary.
Q: Even The New York Times is writing about Snooki.
A: You don't have to be anything — it's so easy, just crash a White House party and you're famous.
Have eight kids and you get your own reality show. In the old days, that was called a Catholic family, no big deal.
Q: Did you do a lot of research for this novel?
A: The worst part of writing the book was having to immerse myself in this crap, read the tabloids, watch the shows, just to familiarize myself with who these people were because they are of no earthly significance whatsoever.
People were going nuts for Sinatra and the Beatles, but they had talent.
Q: So this isn't going away any time soon?
A: It's an obscenity, but it's only getting bigger. Just look at the time and resources spent chasing the mistresses of Tiger Woods. If you took half that much journalistic energy and pointed it in the direction of Washington, you'd have front-page stories that would matter to every single American every single day.
Q: Why did you switch from making fun of evil developers and money men to making fun of pop stars?
A: The developers are not entirely missing, but when you write satire, you have to wait to be moved by whatever absurdity seems to prevail.
Q: Florida isn't the only cause for pessimism, is it?
A: There's total obstructionism in Washington. The Republicans haven't had an original idea in I don't know how long, and whatever Obama suggests, they're going to oppose it.
All the votes are predictable — they're robots. That's why voters are so pissed off.
Q: Is reality making your job harder?
A: Totally. I wrote a novel years ago, called Sick Puppy, about a scummy political operative. I thought I'd invented the most despicable lobbyist ever, and then Jack Abramoff comes along and makes my guy look like the Dalai Lama.
Take Sarah Palin. If you're a novelist, you couldn't invent a character like that, not that anyone would buy, anyway. No achievements, nothing in the résumé, and now she's being talked about for president.