Posted Feb. 14, 2013
By KEVIN SANDS
“Insane City” is not trying to change the world. It’s not trying to make profound points about the human consciousness, and it’s certainly not something that an English teacher would teach.
“Insane City” is the story of Seth Weinstein, a fairly normal underachiever who is in the Miami area for his wedding. Seth is marrying Tina Clark, a fabulously wealthy lawyer seemingly out of his league. Thanks partially to actions by the “Groom Posse,” Seth’s stereotypical groomsmen, everybody finds themselves in South Beach, quickly losing money and sanity. Hijinks ensue.
Sound a bit like the movie, “The Hangover”? It is.
At times, in fact, Barry’s writing style seems more like a film script than a novel, rapidly cutting between different scenes several times a chapter. However, “Insane City” does its own thing enough to make it more than just a shameless clone. In particular, Barry effectively uses the city of Miami, where he has long resided, to great effect. The novel takes Seth and others through many familiar locations like strip clubs on U.S. 1, Ocean Drive and failing, tacky tourist traps.
Fans of Barry should know that this is not the funniest writing he’s ever done. Unlike his long-running column for The Miami Herald, very little in the book is funny enough to inspire a true laugh out loud. Most of these laughs came from Marty, Seth’s best man, who goes from being near insufferable in the beginning of the novel to being easily its best asset by the middle. Though it doesn’t inspire many belly laughs, it’s amusing enough to keep a smile plastered on your face for a majority of the novel. A good parallel here is a sitcom rerun caught one night on “Nick at Nite” — not exactly laugh-out-loud funny, but amusing and comforting enough that it will do the job.
Barry does a nice job making sure every character is important to the story. What may seem like a minor character introduced for a quick joke may turn out to be a major character later on. These characters also play off of each other nicely. Characters like Meghan, Tina’s pothead sister, and Wendell Corliss, an improbably wealthy hedge fund manager “worth more than most member nations in the European Union,” initially seem like one-joke stereotypes. By the end of the book, however, these characters are fleshed out and multidimensional. For a comedy novel, it’s a nice touch.
“Insane City” is a swift read, the type of book that would improve an otherwise dreary day spent flying. Though the novel is more than 300 pages, it does not drag or wax poetic for too long. A typical passage, describing the bouncers at a strip club on U.S. 1, illustrates this nicely:
“The bouncers’ main function was to ensure that the patrons did not touch the performers unless they had paid for this privilege up front. When necessary, the bouncers escorted unruly patrons off the premises, a chore that the bouncers had turned into a sport, the object being to see who could throw a patron the farthest through the air before any part of the patron’s body made contact with the parking lot. The current patron toss record, marked by a discreet white line spray-painted on the parking lot asphalt, was eight feet, four inches. It was set by a veteran bouncer named Juan ‘Fig’ Figueras, a former Florida State University offensive tackle with approximately the same physical dimensions as a three-bedroom condominium.”
All in all, “Insane City” is a fine book, if not a particularly memorable one. As previously mentioned, this is not exactly the most ambitious book. For what it attempts to accomplish—to show what a crazy version of “The Hangover” would be like in Miami, with more Haitian refugees and less Ken Jeong — it does an admirable job. “Insane City” merely shows off what Barry does best — amusing humor.
RATING: Four stars out of five
• “Insane City” by Dave Barry
• $26.95, hardcover
• J.P. Putnam’s Sons
• Released Jan. 29, 2013