Mon September 13, 2004
Cadillac Beach is Tim Dorsey's sixth novel, and it is much like the previous five. They are satires, but of the most extravagant, over-the-top variety.
By Don Noble
Cadillac Beach is Tim Dorsey's sixth novel, and it is much like the previous five. But Dorsey's work is hard to describe even, never mind to pigeonhole. He is not a genre writer. These are not exactly crime novels, although there is lots of crime. They are not adventure novels, though adventures abound. They are not exactly mystery novels, though there are murders and other mysteries. They are satires, but of the most extravagant, over-the-top variety.
To begin at the beginning: they are Florida novels. Almost every bit of action takes place in either the Miami area or the Tampa Bay area. There is no hero, detective, policeman, etc., but there is a recurring protagonist--an anti-hero, named Serge Storms. In the phone book, he would be Storms, Serge, get it? The wave that obliterates.
Serge is a lunatic. I don't mean eccentric, I mean he is an escapee from the Chattahoochee State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He escapes in nearly every book. His great virtue is that he is absolutely drug-free. Can't abide them. Especially the anti-psychotic drugs he should take to keep him from turning into an out-of-control madman.
In this novel, Cadillac Beach, we find Serge organizing an off-beat Florida tour company. He is obsessed with Florida history, especially what he sees as the golden age, the fifties, when the Fountainbleau was at its height, with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis appearing there, and where Elvis did his home-from-the-Army special.
He loves to see the room where Ricky and Lucy stayed in the Miami episodes and where Goldfinger was shot and where Jackie Gleason did his show live from the Miami Beach Auditorium because "the Miami Beach audience is the best audience in the world." And he even worships the locations for episodes of Miami Vice but less so with episodes of CSI Miami.
Serge's buddy, druggy Lenny says, sensibly, I think, "Caruso annoys me." Serge responds, "Yeah, but he's so annoying it's art." Lenny: "He also annoyed me on NYPD Blue." Serge; "Then he quit the show to embark on his top secret movie career." I agree with Lenny.
One of Serge's customers on his tour bus is Mick Dafoe, a New York City newspaperman who hates Miami like Woody Allen hates California. On the occasion of each Orange Bowl, Dafoe puts out an annual Miami's Top Ten Rejected Tourism Slogans. Here are a few:
"10. Miami: It's like a whole other country. Really.
9. Return to paradise--your flight back home.
8. English, Schmenglish.
7. The kind of elections that make you forget about our riots.
. . .
5. Gateway to Little Haiti.
4. Cocaine: It's not just for breakfast anymore.
3. Come for our friendly people, stay for our penicillin.
. . .
And the number-one rejected slogan by the Miami Chamber of Commerce: "Krome Avenue Detention Center is for lovers."
Tim Dorsey, who was editor of the Plainsman at Auburn and was a gadfly then for the Funderburk administration--I am not making this up--is not in the employ of the Florida state chamber of commerce.
He is irreverent in the extreme and this book seems to have been heavily influenced by the absurdity of Catch-22, the surreal drug visions of Naked Lunch, the madness of the English novelist Tom Sharpe, the anti-heroic qualities of Sebastian Dangerfield of The Ginger Man, and a host of other non-rational influences.
In Cadillac Beach there are Mafiosi, the CIA, the FBI, a second invasion of the Bay of Pigs, a Mariel boatlift in reverse, letters from Serge to President George W., offering help. There are no sacred cows left unbarbecued. Dorsey may not be writing literature, exactly, but this fiction has energy, zip, insane characters, and spurting arteries.
Dorsey will be a guest of honor in Montgomery on Friday, September 24, at the Alabama Center for the Book annual gala banquet.
Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Recently retired as English professor at The University of Alabama, Don's specialties are Southern and American literature. Don also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.