For the past several years, Gabriel Tucker has lived riotously courtesy of a trust fund, but now…
Gabriel’s uncle Ian delivers the bad news: “I regret to inform you that by the time you get this letter, I’ll be dead and you’ll be broke.” Uncle Ian has been speculating with Gabriel’s bankroll, and all that’s left for him is a run-down art-deco building called the Venus de Milo Arms (“a sunny place for shady people”) in South Beach, a city Gabriel has never visited. He falls into a love-hate relationship with this architectural gem—or monstrosity, depending on your point of view. It seems some high rollers want to buy it, tear it down and put up multimillion-dollar condos with ocean views. Gabriel quickly bonds with some of the outré residents of the place, including Holocaust survivor Miss Mera Levy; kinky Skip, who’s “into pain”; Pandora, a lip-synching transvestite waiting for sex-reassignment surgery; and most notably Marina, a gorgeous performance artist who’s also the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (aka the “genius grant”). We also follow the fortunes of Jesus Mas Canosa, a Cuban male prostitute who flees to America on a raft, immediately meets the multimillionaire designer Salvatore Fabrizio (later assassinated—hmm) and gets a fat contract to be in ads for designer underwear. (His tag line: “America is fantástico!”) Halfway through the novel, Antoni (Paradise Overdose, 1994) starts pressing the sympathy pedal rather too hard. He wants to produce an emotional reaction from the reader when Miss Levy dies and when Skip gets AIDS, but these serious issues get sidelined in a narrative defined by froth.
Antoni does nothing by halves: His characters are overdone, overripe or oversexed—or a combination of the three.