Dave Barry’s “Insane City” is true to its name — as soon as Seth Weinstein and his groomsmen arrive in Miami for his wedding, things get a little crazy. And by ‘a little crazy’, I mean everything begins to fall apart as people become unhinged and every disaster imaginable happens.
The novel is a nonstop thrill ride of bad turns, bad luck and worst-case scenarios. The plot line relies on an often overused and irritating trope: Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. “Insane City” sticks to Murphy’s law as religiously as the NRA sticks to the Second Amendment. But while this kind of plot development is typically an annoying feature, Barry keeps the novel fresh by including a range of diverse characters, impossible scenarios and hysterical one-liners.
In “Insane City,” Seth is getting ready to marry Tina Clark, who is regarded by many as the Tina Clark, a smokin’ lawyer with buckets of money. She is also the daughter of Mike Clark, regarded by many as the Mike Clark, one of the richest businessmen in the world. Seth, a “nice guy” who tweets about douches for a living, believes that Tina is out of his league. He often wonders throughout the novel why she is marrying him.
When Seth arrives in Miami with his groomsmen, he has more stress to deal with than just the wedding. In the first 50 pages he gets drunk, loses his fiancee’s wedding ring, loses his groomsmen (who lose their clothes), picks up a stripper who demands money he does not have, gets threatened by the stripper’s boyfriend and saves undocumented immigrants from certain death. All the while, Seth is trying to cater to his aging parents’ needs, impress his soon-to-be father-in-law and keep his bride-to-be happy. Needless to say, the groom eventually ends up on a pirate ship with an orangutan and a pimp.
The novel is hysterical. At times it seems like Barry is satirizing the ridiculous “Hangover” movies. But unlike the “Hangover” movies, Barry sticks to no formula except Murphy’s law. Every scene and every chapter in the novel is full of lush and original circumstances of extreme misfortune and humor. Seth has to borrow the stripper’s boyfriend’s car to pick up his parents, and can’t find a way to get the car’s television to stop playing porn. Wendal Corliss, one of the few men in this world richer than Mike Clark, accidentally gets high and purchases a pizza restaurant. Seth and a woman who won fourth in the Miss Hot Amateur Bod Contest accidently rob a fast-food joint.
The construction of Barry’s characters is unrealistic. They are reminiscent of the exaggerated characters portrayed on television. The plot development clearly suffers from the same issue, but Barry is not going for realism here.
The constant twists and turns are the novel’s best features. Barry keeps his reader on his toes, making him regularly gasp in horror and then giggle in shock. However, “Insane City” is good for more than its laughs and ridiculous plot. The novel is also an easy read — Barry keeps his writing short and concise. He doesn’t waste a single page. Somewhere, buried in this novel, is a moral lost between the pages of insanity and nonsense. “Insane City” is funny, witty and full of rotten luck, but its ending is unexpectedly sweet and heartening.
Dave Barry will be signing “Insane City” and speaking at Book People on Feb. 5 at 7:00 p.m.
Printed on Tuesday, January 29, 2013 as: Novel embraces insanity, bad luck with fun results