Pan, 1993, 405 pages
No matter what you heard or thought about the movie version of Strip Tease, forget it. Film simply can’t catch the layers of humor, satire, and imagination that author Carl Hiaasen creates in each of his novels.
When a deranged Florida congressman falls for a gorgeous but virtuous stripper, he dedicates himself to pursuing this tasselled princess. Not only is she a real beauty, she’s a damsel in distress. The effects of his quest will ripple through the spotlights of the strip joint, the sugar cane fields of south Florida, and some powerful political careers.
Fueled by innocent lust and dizzy miscalculations, this story will keep you howling with surprise. George Wilson’s colorful narration is the perfect vehicle for Carl Hiaasen’s twisted fairy tale.
Carl Hiaasen does Florida-crazy well. Like his other novels, Strip Tease weaves together a random cast of odd characters into a story that actually makes sense in the end, despite the wacky hijinks.
The main plot revolves around one of Florida's most profitable exports, a white powder worth billions for which the cartels that control it will kill anyone who threatens their lucrative business. Sugar, of course.
Erin Grant had a pretty good job as a secretary for the FBI. Erin is a smart, sensible woman who committed the one mistake so many smart, sensible women do - she married a handsome dirtbag. In a nasty divorce, she loses her FBI job because her husband is a criminal, then her husband manages to get custody of their daughter, despite being an addict and a criminal, because Erin is forced to take a job dancing at a strip club. The judge who rules Erin an unfit mother becomes a regular at her club.
One night, a libidinous Congressman goes into a drunken rage onstage with Erin, clubs another patron over the head with a bottle, and has to be dragged out by long-suffering "fixer," who then spends the rest of the book trying to cover up the Congressman's infelicities before an important vote on sugar subsidies.
The Congressman falls in love with Erin (a phenomenon she's not unused to, working at a strip club), but his exposing himself to her (literally and figuratively) puts his political career in danger, and the men who have bought and paid for him can't have that. Erin is smart enough to take care of herself, but also smart enough to realize she's in danger and just being smart and competent isn't enough against the power of Washington lobbyists who are willing to erase inconvenient little people. Fortunately, she also has her biker bouncer buddy, Chad, and a police sergeant who takes an interest in the case after his fishing vacation is spoiled by his son discovering a "floater" who happens to be one of the inconvenient little people.
Like Hiaasen's other novels, Strip Tease tucks trenchant social criticism and cynical political commentary into a colorful cast of weirdos, crazies, working class folks, conniving villains, lecherous creeps, smart chicks, decent cops, corrupt politicians, scheming ex-cons with hearts of gold, and half a dozen subplots that all somehow manage to drive the main plot forward in clever ways. There is the bouncer who is perpetually foiled in his schemes to retire on the proceedings of a lawsuit from a cockroach found in his yogurt, the strip club owner perpetually in labor disputes with his dancers, who range from empty-headed bimbos to very smart women trying to get by; there are shysters and fixers and dirty politics galore. And it's very funny. Erin herself never falls into any kind of stereotype as a stripper, and while the villains are a little bit out of Central Casting, who doesn't love a dimwitted, lecherous Congressman getting what's coming to him?
The 1996 movie is mostly famous for Demi Moore dancing topless. It's not a terrible movie, but it has none of the wit or cleverness of Hiaasen's novel. It generally follows the plot of the book until the end, where it deviates into Hollywood stupidity. Do not judge the book by the movie, and only see the movie if you really want to see Demi Moore's tits.
Verdict: A clever, funny novel that is less sexy but much, much better than the movie. Strip Tease isn't just a humorous tale about a stripper up against corrupt politicians and sugar magnates; it's also humanitarian and satirical and makes me think Hiaasen writes with shades of Vonnegut. 8/10.
Also by Carl Hiaasen: My reviews of Nature Girl and Double Whammy.
My complete list of book reviews.