The latest Sundial Book Club pick: Carl Hiaasen's timely and satirical novel, ‘Squeeze Me’
A story of what happens when a wealthy elite of Palm Beach suddenly goes missing and the hilarious political and social upheaval it causes.
The wealthy residents of Palm Beach gather at a classy gala the night Katherine “Kiki" Sparling Pew Fitzsimmons goes missing. Meanwhile, someone calls a wildlife expert to the gala to euthanize an unwanted party guest: a massive python.
There’s something strange about this python. It has a mysteriously large bulge in its belly. That’s how the book “Squeeze Me” by Carl Hiaasen begins. The satirical novel is the Sundial Book Club’s October title.
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WLRN’s Luis Hernandez spoke with Hiaasen about what it took for him to complete this novel during the pandemic and following the loss of his brother.
Below are excerpts from the conversation, which have been edited for length and clarity.
WLRN: You started writing this book a few months after your brother, Rob, had died. What was it like getting back into writing again — whether it was the column or writing this book?
HIAASEN: One of the things the newspaper business teaches you is there is no such thing as writer’s block. You have a deadline and you’re expected to turn in “X” number of words by this time, so you’re just conditioned to write through almost any kind of experience. But this in particular, losing Rob the way it happened, it just felt like too much to try to deal with and be able to focus the way you have to. The [Miami] Herald was great about it. They said, “Take as much time as you need.”
And then the books are a little different kind of muscle that you’re exercising than the newspaper, especially a novel where you have a lot of plot lines. And secondarily, in my case, the books are supposed to be funny. It’s satire, so you’re supposed to make people laugh. I didn’t feel very funny or humorous, so it did take awhile.
You dedicated this book to your brother. How do you remember him, and how do his loved ones remember him?
There’s not a day that goes by, obviously, that I don’t think about him. Even when I’m writing, I miss our phone calls because we didn’t see each other that much. He was living in the Baltimore area for years and years and I’m down here. You miss all of it.
One of the reasons I just went back and was eventually able to dive into writing again is because that’s what he would’ve wanted. He would’ve been highly pissed off to think that I just quit, and that helped me get this book done.
Well, let’s talk about the book. We start off with this wealthy socialite, Katherine “Kiki” Sparling Pew Fitzsimmons. She’s at a Palm Beach gala. Did you get the idea because you read the section of the paper that focuses on the glitzy Palm Beach life?
Well, no, I’ve been to just a couple of these events. For obvious reasons, I don’t get invited much nor do I seek an invitation, but I’d seen some of the cinematic possibilities just by attending them. While I was writing the book, I read The Palm Beach Daily News which is what they used to call a “Shiny Sheet” because it was primarily focused on society happenings.
During the season, there’s a gala every other night at one mansion or one resort. They post pictures of everybody. They cover it exhaustively because that community is very generous, but they’re also very interested in seeing themselves in the “Shiny Sheet.”