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Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel
Putnam / Penguin Putnam
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-399-15869-8
Publication Date: 01-10-2012
310 Pages; $26.95
Date Reviewed: 01-22-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index:  General Fiction

Apology degrades into argument before the second sentence. Philip Horkman begs for forgiveness, and Jeffrey Peckerman begs to differ. Profanity ensues, and with it, laughter. Lots of stomach-hurting laughter.

But laughter is not enough. What makes 'Lunatics' by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel worth reading is the sight of two relationships unfolding on the pages; the first, between Horkman and Peckerman, two clueless dweebs whose suburban battle escalates to international proportions. The second is between the two writers. Barry and Zweibel play off one another with giddy joy and skilled finesse. Readers might have to widen their notion of finesse, of course, to include the appropriate use of swear words, scatological humor, rudeness, and unintended cruelty to pretty much every form of life on the planet. Broad humor is an understatement; Barry and Zweibel have gone global, and not in a touchy-feely way.

Character is indeed the key that drives the novel, which unfolds alternating chapters as each man tells his story. Philip Horkman is a quintessential nice guy. He owns a pet store called "The Wine Store," and spends his Sundays volunteering as a referee for the local AYSO league. Jeffrey Peckerman is a forensic plumber with a chip on his shoulder and a short temper. When Horkman rules Peckerman's daughter offsides after she kicks what might have been a game-tying goal, Horkman goes ballistic. The confrontations escalate with an alarmingly believable and consistently hilarious ease.

For a book that reads like lightning and features more silliness than a 24-hour Looney Tunes marathon, 'Lunatics' is very meticulously and craftily constructed. Zweibel writes the Horkman chapters, and Barry the Peckerman responses. Horkman is a more fully-realized character in that he's somebody whose presence would not immediately drive you from the room. Peckerman, on the other hand is a complete jerk who, as the two of them become unwilling partners, is always ready to stab anyone in the vicinity in the back to get shut of the trouble he has brought upon himself.

The key to this novel is the prose written by each author. Both characters are perfect examples of the self-absorbed American. Zweibel and Barry move the action at a lightning pace and immerse us in their characters' perceptions; but neither character has much of a clue as to what is really happening around them. They experience the havoc they wreak with a set of blinders. Readers can easily twig to the bigger picture, and even then, we get the story as seen from outside by the media in a third level of perception. When you start to pull it apart it proves to be very sophisticated, but your reading experience will submerge all those complications in gales of laughter.

Barry and Zweibel are clearly having a blast and readers will as well. While Barry's Peckerman is of necessity less nuanced (a relative term when applied to a broad farce such as this) than Zweibel's Horkman, Barry does get to unleash the gross jokes and entertaining curses. The two men each meet a woman appropriate to their character on the journey, and beyond the jokes, what carries readers through the novel are the characters. These guys may both be first-class, self-absorbed dipsticks, but by virtue of the writers' skill, we like them both. 'Lunatics' may seem like one bug yuk, and it is, but it's a smart yuk. Barry and Zweibel get a rhythm going, then undermine it, then another which itself is soon undone.

The upshot here is pretty simple. If you want to laugh, read 'Lunatics.' Enjoy the bathroom jokes, the nudity jokes, the entertaining curses and outlandish situations. But make no mistake about it. Barry and Zweibel are smart writers who have the kind of craft and timing to make something very complicated read like a lark. There's a jazzy, almost musical feel to this novel. Relax, get in the groove, and enjoy the unique feeling of laughing as things go tragically right.

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