Miami In Fiction

2.21.2013

By Andrew Belonsky

Take a look, it's in a book: Florida provides a backdrop for a wide selection of excellent narratives.

There's no shortage of crime novels that portray Miami Beach's underbelly. A number of Florida native Elmore Leonard's tough guy novels take place amidst the city's art deco architecture and neon night life. Get Shorty, Rum Punch and Glitz all take place there, as does LaBrava, about a man who finds himself pulled into an aging starlet's dark world.

Carl Hiaasen, another author born and raised in Florida, has also built a well-deserved career on the state's criminal element. One of our favorites from his collection, Double Whammy, introduces readers to the former governor-turned-hermit Skink, a character who speaks out against over-development, the decline of society and corruption in later books, including Stormy Weather, Sick Puppy and Star Island.

Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country, a condensed trilogy about real-life outlaw and antihero Edgar "Bloody" Watson also delves into Florida's darker side, while Tom Wolfe's latest tome, Back to Blood, brings the author's interest in high society intrigue, crime and passion to Miami, where he adds the immigration to the mix by exploring the city's melting pot of Cuban, French, Haitian and even Russian cultures.

The city, Wolfe writes, resembles a "a picture book with the same photograph on every page... every page... high noon beneath a flawless cloudless bright-blue sky... on every page... a tropical sun that turns those rare old birds, pedestrians, into stumpy abstract black shadows on the sidewalk...on every page... unending views of the Atlantic Ocean."

Everglades summers, sultry and viscous, come alive in Zora Neale Hurston's 1937 Their Eyes Were Watching God, a classic about a black woman named Janie Crawford coming into her own amidst Spanish moss in segregated Florida. A Wake In Ybor City revolves around Cuban immigrants in the titular Tampa neighborhood. Like Their Eyes Were Watching God, it remains a favorite for its authentic portrayal of the lives and times of a cultural minority in Florida. And Ernest Hemingway's novel To Have and Have Not uses a Miami fishing boat captain's fiction life to examine the very real economic and social divisions between rich and poor and the starving and the fed during in the Great Depression.

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank takes a more cynical view of Florida: published in 1959, as nuclear paranoid continued to grip the nation and the state was becoming an epicenter for conspicuous consumption, this apocalyptic drama examines what would become of the Sunshine State after an A-Bomb went off. Nothing good. In addition to run-of-the-mill death and destruction, all of Miami's jewelry has been turned radioactive.

And Miami has plays cameo roles in a number of other fantastic reads. Before Night Falls, gay author Reinaldo Arenas' memoir that was later turned into a movie, starts in Cuba, but takes Arenas through Cuba as he flees the communist government back home. He couldn't stand Miami, though, and later left for the friendlier, though snowier, streets of New York.

The James Bond romp Goldfinger, alsoa made into a movie, sees the spy traveling through Miami, where a number of fictional foes from other Bond books, like the Spangled Mob and the Shadow Syndicate, have headquarters. Bond experts say Goldfinger represents a transition for the character, one in which he moves away from a one-dimensional caricature toward a more compelling, well-rounded and likeable individual. And all it took was a Florida vacation.

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