From the acclaimed best-selling author of Philistines at the Hedgerow comes a remarkably revealing profile of the Miami Beach no one knows, a tale of fabulous excess, thwarted power, and rekindled lives that will take its place among the decade's best works of social portraiture.
Created from a mix of swampland and dredged-up barrier reef, Miami Beach has always been one part drifter-mecca and one part fantasyland, simultaneously a catch basin for con men, fast-talk artists, and shameless self-promoters, and a Shangri-La for sun worshippers and hardcore hedonists. In Miami Beach it's often said that "if you're not indicted you're not invited." But the city's mad, fascinating complexity resists easy stereotyping.
Fool's Paradise is more than just a present-day profile of a dark Eden. Gaines journeys back into the city's social and cultural history, unearthing stories of the resort's past that are every bit as absorbing - and jaw-dropping - as those of its present. The book begins with a snapshot of the city's current excess (this is, after all, a sun-washed hamlet that boasts, on a per capita basis, more bars - and breast implants - than any other place in America), then plunges into the Beach's origins, chronicling the audacious rise of such hoteliers as the Fontainebleau's Ben Novack and the Eden Roc's Harry Mufson, the sharp-elbowed tactics of Al Capone and Frank Sinatra, and the Mac-10 shooting sprees of the Marielito and Colombian drug lords.
From there, the narrative shifts to two wildly eccentric souls who gave their lives to preserving the city's architectural dazzle and creating its color palette, introduces us to "the Most Powerful Man in Miami Beach", and arrives finally in the modern day, where we meet, among others, a kinky German playboy who once owned a quarter of South Beach and publicly flaunts his sexual escapades; a fabulously successful nightclub promoter whose addictive past seems to have given him a portal into the night world's id; and a gaggle of young sexy models, dreamers, and schemers on a mission to achieve significance.
Evoking the Beach's surreal blend of flashy Vegas and old Hollywood glamour, as well as its manic desperation and reckless wealth, Gaines persuasively demonstrates that though the Beach is, in the words of its most famous drag queen, "an island of broken toys . . . a place where people get away with things they'd never get away with anyplace else," it casts an irresistible spell.
I found "Fool's Paradise" to be a rich, fascinating listen. Gaines is a terrific storyteller, with a gift for remembering that "history" is yesterday's juicy gossip. Starting with the description of a half-million dollar bat mitzvah (for the daughter of a couple of nouveau riche socialites who are not exactly Jewish), he then goes back in time to the cigar-chomping businessmen who drained the swamps, built the great hotels, and wound up in mammoth, ego-fueled feuds.
Then we get the coming of Al Capone and his gangster buddies … the Rat Pack era when Sinatra had his own suite at the Fontainebleau but didn't pay for anything but his hookers … the flamboyantly gay doorman whose pot-inspired reveries gave birth to South Beach's pastel color scheme … the Cuban boatlift and the drug wars of the "Scarface" era … the gay scene, the nightclubs, the models, etc., etc., etc.
Narrator Dean Sluyter brings the right kind of storytelling energy to all this. He voices a big cast of characters (models, mobsters, etc.) in lively fashion, and when the stories verge (often) on the surreal or the absurd, you can sense the raised eyebrow in his voice.
I was disappointed by this audiobook. The title was misleading in my opinion. There were a few examples of "players,posers and excess" but an inordinate amount of the book was spent on architecture, people who didn't have anything to do with the title description and random characters. I got so tired of name dropping and uninteresting facts that I barely made it to the end.
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