Hello, everyone! To those who don’t know me, I’d like to introduce myself as one of Carl Hiaasen’s biggest fans. I’ve read and re-read almost every one of his books, delighting in his razor-sharp wit and gleeful satire. When times are tough, I know I can disappear into one of his zany plots and feel comforted by the fact that no matter how difficult life may seem, there is always something worse going on in Florida. When Carl Hiaasen, respected Miami Herald columnist, brilliant author, and surprise talking head on Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, recently released his newest novel Squeeze Me, I bought it without it a second thought. While I enjoyed the novel, I was disappointed to find that it would not provide me a chance to escape from reality, as the antagonist of this novel was none other than a thinly veiled satire of Donald Trump. As someone who has been trying to avoid any mention of that man for the past four years, reading Squeeze Me was a journey into an unsettling alternate universe that was too realistic for comfort.
Synopsis: Intrepid wildlife capturer Angie Armstrong is no stranger to Florida’s fearsome fauna, but when a Burmese python makes a surprise visit at a fancy Palm Beach social club, she might have met her match. Wealthy socialite Kiki Pew Fitzsimmons has been murdered, and although Angie knows that the snake is responsible, the President has pinned it on an unlucky undocumented immigrant named Diego. With the Commander’s Ball approaching at the Winter White House, a hoard of protestors chanting murderously outside of Diego’s prison, and a host of Burmese pythons appearing in politically inconvenient places, Angie must team up with local Secret Service agent Paul Ryskamp to vindicate Diego and prevent another hapless member of Florida’s elite from becoming a python’s dinner.
My thoughts: Squeeze Me has all the trappings of a perfect Carl Hiaasen novel. There’s Angie Armstrong, one of Hiaasen’s favorite type of characters, an intelligent and independent woman with an iron-clad sense of justice and a passion for Florida’s embattled ecosystem. There’s a stalwart, wise-cracking law enforcement officer ready to lend a hand and step in as Angie’s possible love interest. There are idiotic criminals, self-righteously smug elites, and various animals causing mayhem simply by existing. And as always, there is a powerful undercurrent of environmental activism running through the story. All in all, a recipe for another winning novel. The only problem is the antagonist. Instead of crafting one of his usual self-absorbed villains, Hiaasen ripped one from reality, and of course, he chose the smuggest, most self-absorbed Floridian to have ever existed. That would all be fine if the man he chose wasn’t Trump. Just as in real life, Trump’s existence makes even the funniest story seem cynical and depressing.
Codenamed Mastodon in the novel, Hiaasen’s take on Trump, while funny, doesn’t manage to capture the narcissism of the man himself. Mastodon is vain and silly. He eats terribly, gets tacky fake tans, cheats on his cold, foreign wife with a stripper, and accidentally calls Kiki Pew Fitzimmons “Kikey” in one of his many rapid fire tweets. And while Mastodon’s tirade against undocumented immigrant Diego, in which he calls for “No More Diegos” and even invents a fake MS-13 knockoff called the DBC-88 (Diego Beltran Cartel), would be appropriately villainous in any other setting, Hiaasen’s spoof version of Trump falls a lot more on the side of idiotic goofball than the sociopathic grifter that exists in real life.
Squeeze Me was originally published in August 2020, which means that Hiaasen could not have foreseen the events following the November election or the Capitol insurrection that took place on January 6. While critics of Trump have always known that his mockable antics merely serve as a distraction from the real danger that his narcissism posed to the country, his monthlong “Stop the Steal” campaign and his incendiary speech on January 6, as well as his complete reluctance to do anything to stop the insurrectionists during their invasion of the Capitol, showed the general public that the President we love to mock is no fool, but a man who has always gotten exactly what he wants, and will stop at nothing, not even the integrity of his own country’s elections, to remain in power and escape accountability for his actions. These realizations were horrifying, and they place Hiaasen’s satirical version of Trump in a whole new light. Trump is not a harmless idiot in the vein of the other politicians that populate Hiaasen’s novels. He is someone who caused, and continues to cause, real harm to the United States, and it’s detrimental to write him off as just another Davy Dilbeck.
That said, I can’t really blame Hiaasen for the route he took. As a lifelong resident of Florida, and someone who has never shied away from holding Florida’s most corrupt to account, it was surprising that Hiaasen waited as long as he did to satirize Trump, a figure whose ridiculous antics have always been ripe for the picking. And if he had lampooned Trump in an earlier time, when he was a cartoonish reality TV star and failed businessman, that would have been different. It would have made for another fantastic novel. But with the reality of who Trump is, and what he did so soon after the novel’s publication, reading Squeeze Me left a nasty taste in my mouth. Because in Squeeze Me, Mastodon gets re-elected, even after the pandemic. He continues to vilify immigrants and wreak havoc on the country with impunity. Even though Angie saves the day, nothing really changes, and Mastodon never receives any punishment for his actions. It’s too close for comfort, which is why this might be the first Carl Hiaasen novel that I won’t read twice.