Writing friend Donna Banta introduced me to two good things; Squeeze Me, by Carl Hiaasen, and Topo Chico, a sparkling water from Mexico that is currently having a moment.
Hiaasen’s latest propulsive, bananas-crazy acid-dripping satirical Floridian outing takes place in and around the Winter White House of a completely fictional US president. The unnamed president is referred to by his title or by his Secret service Handle, Mastodon. Much of the action happens at the luxury hotel Mastodon owns, Casa Belicosa. The bored, gorgeous, much younger ex-model first lady is called Mockingbird.
The protagonist of the story is a wildlife retrieval (or removal) expert named Angie Armstrong. Angie is a classic Hiaasen protagonist. She has a love for the dwindling wilds of her home state, she’s practical, smart, tough and sexy. She’s willing to manipulate if it’s in what she believes is a good cause. Angie has a strong sense of justice and a temper that’s maybe a little bit too strong, and a tendency to take things into her own hands… well, so to speak.
Angie gets called to a fancy fundraising venue to deal with a burmese python, which is found in a tree near a koi pond. The python is clearly sleeping off a very large meal, the evidence of which is still obvious. By no coincidence, one of the president’s supporters, an old, wealthy white widow named Kiki Pew Fitzsimmons, disappeared with no trace from this very venue only a few nights earlier, despite the presence of numerous cameras. She left behind only a purse and a half tab of Ecstasy, found near the koi pond.
Kiki was a proud member of a cadre of septuagenarian widows who call themselves the POTUS Pussies or Potussies for short. In no time at all, Mastodon has whipped up racist sentiment by blaming a random Honduran man who came into the country without papers of the murder of Kiki, or, as he calls her, Kikey.
Despite his short attention span, his love of MacDonald’s, his ignorance, his hotel and his ex-model wife with an unidentified accent, Mastodon is a fictional character and I’m sure any resemblance to the current occasional occupant of the White House is coincidental.
Mastodon has a part to play in the story, but this story is Angie’s. The plot is as propulsive and twisty as a world-class rollercoaster, swirling with pythons, pink pearls, secret service agents, bobcats, raccoons, very stupid criminals, horrifying production numbers, tanning beds and an eccentric man who lives in the wilds and was once the governor of Florida. I can’t remember what names he’s used before, but in this book he goes by Skink.
You can’t write such precise and savage satire without fueling it from a deep well of rage, and clearly Hiaasen has that. There is no mention of gun violence or the anti-journalistic sentiment vocally and viciously expressed by the current occupant of the White House in Squeeze Me, but Hiaasen’s journalist and editor brother was killed in a gun attack on the Capital Gazette in 2018. Don’t get me wrong, Hiaasen was dissecting stupidity, greed and corruption long before then. This story seems exceptionally vitriolic, but it’s precisely aimed and exquisitely delivered vitriol.
I’ll end the review by letting you spend a few moments with Mastodon.
On only his second day in the White House, the President had ordered his chief of staff to arrange a trip to the National Zoo to see a real mastodon. The chief of staff wasn’t brave enough to tell the President the truth, so he cooked up a story that the zoo’s beloved mastodon herd was on loan to a wildlife park in Christchurch, New Zealand.
This acerbic, jabbing story pairs perfectly with a tall glass of Topo Chico over ice. The sparkling water comes in various flavors, but I prefer the unflavored with a slice of citrus (my fave at the moment is lime). The beverage comes in 12 oz bottles and at my local store it’s anywhere from twelve to twenty cents cheaper per bottle than other sparkling waters, even local ones. (There’s a message there of some kind). It’s sold in four-packs as well. The drink is very bubbly–like, if you haven’t refrigerated it, open it over the sink–refreshing and festive.