Half-Assed Book Review: Dave Barry

The review is half-assed because I’m doing it, and I do not excel at talking about books someone else wrote; even if I wrote the book, I would still miss most, if not all of the main, most interesting points.  So here goes:

The book is Dave Barry’s Insane City, which of course takes place in and around in Miami, FL.  Oddly, I hadn’t read anything by Barry in about ten years; the reason why this is odd is that he had not put out a novel like Insane City in about that time.  He’s been writing kids’ books or something, or rather, things that do not draw my attention.  I have read some of Barry’s non-fiction over the years, and it is quite funny…

Insane City is the first book I’ve read in a long time that has made me repeatedly laugh out loud, and this didn’t happen because I kept seeing Barry’s hairdo on the back of the book.  Does he look like that to make you continue laughing after you’ve read, or to make you think, when thinking of buying the book, that a guy who looks like that must be funny?  I got the book at the library, and I wasn’t looking for it, but I’m glad I found it.

Our protagonist is named Seth, a name chosen to indicate a lack of power in the world.  Seth has average friends with names like Steve and Marty, guys who do below-average things, like most people do, like living with their parents for two years after they’ve graduated from law school.  Seth works in marketing, with a focus on social media; the imagination can work from here.  Seth, for whatever reason, has, as a girlfriend, the daughter of a billionaire; she’s also super-great-looking, and generally perfect.  You see the conflict, which then sets you up for their wedding, the plans for which are in the background of the entire book.

The overall formula for the book is very similar to Barry’s other couple of big-deal novels, one of which was Big Trouble, which, as a movie, starred Tim Allen and that Deschanel chick (Zoooooey?) before she became the annoying “indie girl,” back when she had boobs (one of the few actresses out there who somehow lost her boobs over time, rather than growing new ones in the midst of adulthood)…  The concept of class struggle is wrung out through the story, and nothing is remotely original or suspenseful; fortunately, these elements of story really aren’t worth shit (meaning that they are not needed/important here); as a result, the book is extremely entertaining, and as I previously mentioned, funny as hell.

In the 1990s and the early part of the last decade, books set in south Florida seemed to own the market in many genres, especially mystery.  East coast writers (and Elmore Leonard) all seem to wind up living there at some point in time.  Barry’s view of Miami Beach in particular is dead-on, as he gives you the tourist perspective at a level of perfection that could only be improved with a 40-dollar margarita and a pair of $300.00 sunglasses that are fogged up by fake tan juice dripping from your brow in the humidity of summer.  I’ve been there, and been grossed out by the scene, and laughed at its alien-ness…

While making fun of south Florida, Barry’s talent lies in humanizing the area’s inherent weirdness, and whispering to the reader his love for the place.  He gives you the weird animal problems (pythons everywhere), Cubans, prostitutes, and the generalized presence of criminality at every level of existence, along with the perceived separation of the Keys, except in the case of Key Biscayne, which, when speaking of the Keys, is like calling Long Island something other than New York (still freakin’ New York).  Barry puts you there, introduces you nicely, makes you gag, then offers you free rent for the future.  The prostitutes, gangsters, and snakes don’t want to kill you; they just wanna hang, and maybe take some money off your ass.

Read for entertainment, and be happy reading.

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