Men in Miami Hotels
Cotland “Cot” Sims is a gangster, which is to say that people around him die by the hands of brutes and lovers. He returns from Miami to his hometown, Key West, to manage the travails of his aging mother but, to the detriment of friends and family, decides to steal his boss’ jewels. Cot goes on the lam; tied up in this drama are his on-again-off-again lover Marcella, her husband Ordell, his cross-dressing best friend CJ, and a cast of local color.
Yet Cot’s not merely running from his boss; in Charlie Smith’s hands, the fugitive’s getaway takes on the dimensions of a fruitless flight from mortality. The imminent dangers of gun-toting tough guys are more acute versions of the slow dangers of aging. After realizing he’s put his mother in danger, Cot ruminates over The Georgics: “Farm advice, life in the country—these soothe his troubles. Which are what exactly? General reduction of force, confusion, this ghostliness formalizing itself into a story he is telling himself of ghostliness, entropy, slippage, the look in her face adumbrated, only half there, age muddying the water.”
Smith’s writes some of the most elaborately beautiful sentences of any writer living today, and in Men in Miami Hotels, these sentences coil dreamily around the lush Floridian landscape, the loved women wrinkling before Cot’s eyes, the undignified final breaths breathed in sudden bloodbaths. Written in a close third person, the prose registers the nearly nostalgic study of life that precedes certain disaster. Cot “feels as if he’s hanging from a wire suspended between enormous nullities. The best he can hope for is to be left hanging there for a while,” and it’s just this precarious psychic space, in which resignation borders on romanticism, that Smith corners into the crosshairs of his fiction.