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Dave Barry
Insane City

Putnam Adult / Penguin Putnam
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-399-15868-1
Publication Date: 01-29-2013
344 Pages; $26.95
Date Reviewed: 02-14-2013
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013

Index:  General Fiction  

Everybody has plans. We all look into the future, and make decisions about what to do today based on our vision of where we expect and want to be tomorrow. We set a goal and then do what we can to get there. But life has a way of intervening. We find what we thought we wanted to do is not so much fun as we expected. We find that what we hoped would be easy proves to be hard. We meet someone who changes our vision of ourselves. In the course of days, months, and years, we end up somewhere utterly different than what at one time had seemed to be our certain destination. We are human frogs, boiling ourselves slowly every day of our lives, unable to discern just how poached we have become.

With 'Insane City,' humorist Dave Barry boils Seth Weinstein, a very human frog, in the accelerated literary genre of farce. It's a quick read that is consistently funny, often hilarious and always engaging, and not just because it centers on a wedding. Barry makes the book deceptively easy to enjoy, but don't be fooled. 'Insane City' is a finely tuned, superbly written novel about the triumph of truth in a world of deception. Humans may be as easily boiled as frogs, but what's left afterward is much better at making decisions that lead to a happier future.

Seth's story is both simple and byzantine. He arrives in Miami with "The Groom Squad" to get married, but first he gets drunk. This leads to a series of problems that must be solved before he can tie the knot with his hyper-rich / beautiful / successful lawyer bride, Tina. (Un)Fortunately for Seth, Miami proves to be a perfect human-boiling environment. It's a city and a character where the weird walk the streets without notice, where excess is expected and encouraged, and a frontier where the world sends its most desperate castaways. Seth's two days in Miami are the equivalent of years in our lives, overturning his understanding of himself.

Barry's accomplishments here are many and for the most part, never obvious. He offers readers a large cast of characters who seem real and full of the stuff of life. One of the treats of 'Insane City' is that we like everyone we meet, so it is always fun to read the book, no matter whom we are with. Barry does take some serious chances here by introducing, early on, Laurette, a Haitian refugee with two children. Her plight is not in the least bit funny. But Barry uses his sense of farce to get us from A to B to C to the letter in some alien alphabet where Laurette and her children fit in perfectly with the rest of his cast and what he calls the "wedding-industrial complex" that drives the plot. This is a novel where readers will miss all of the characters after they finish the book.

For all the wild excess on display in 'Insane City,' it's Barry's discipline that lets him turn the volume up to eleven. Dialogue is crisp, funny and to-the-point. Scenes of action are vivid. Barry gives us just enough to conjure up the absurdities that will send his characters into the next absurdity. He has lots of fun with the language and the ability to pluck out the low points of our highly civilized world, and then reveal them to be as hilarious as they are. He uses peeves to drive plot, and point-of-view with an effortless ease to bring laughter. You might think he spent more time with orangutans than would have been good for his health. It's a testament to his skill as a writer than he can bring out the inner life of a lonely primate who is not human.

Keep the title in mind as you read the book; Miami, the setting, the 'Insane City,' is not just a weird place where kooky stuff happens on a regular basis. It's a Petri dish where the human virus can grow unchecked, where the human frogs can be boiled in a fraction of the time it takes elsewhere on this gray world. 'Insane City' is a breezy, laugh-out-loud farce that lets you take it just seriously enough to understand, while you're catching your breath, that the water is getting warmer around you.

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