‘It's complicated." • That line runs like an apologetic mantra through Dave Barry's new novel Insane City, a zany Florida-freaky romp about a young man's earnest efforts to make it to the church on time. • Actually, Seth Weinstein's extravagant wedding to a billionaire's daughter is scheduled for a beach gazebo at the Ritz-Carlton on Key Biscayne. That means Seth flies from his home in Washington, D.C., to Miami. And you know what that means: Before he even gets out of the airport, it's complicated. • That all-purpose explanation will serve for everything from the discovery of Seth's three groomsmen, one sans pants, recumbent on a South Beach sidewalk to the presence of a lovesick orangutan in the back seat of a stolen police car, eventualities not covered in the average wedding etiquette guide.
Barry is best known for his 22-year stint as a humor columnist for the Miami Herald, where he won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1988, but he has also published more than 30 books. Insane City is his third solo novel (he has co-written several novels), and, like much of his writing, it takes full advantage of the endless font of weirdness that is Florida, wrapping up everything from roadside zoos to strip clubs in a tale of wedding plans gone awry.
It's not that Seth doesn't want to get married; indeed, he can hardly believe his luck. His bride-to-be, Tina Clark, is not only ridiculously rich and a high-powered lawyer, she's smart, funny and, as Seth says, "unbelievably hot." So passionate is she about environmental causes that her custom wedding gown is crafted from hemp — at a cost of $137,000, not counting the first-class fares to Paris for its design and fitting. She has overseen everything about the ceremony with the laser focus of a general; as her wedding planner says, "Basically … the bride is coordinating the Normandy invasion and the groom is remembering to zip up his fly."
The puzzle is why Tina wants to marry Seth, who is handsome and amiable but who, when he met her, was still living with his parents and eking out a living as a "tweet whore," promoting women's hygiene products on Twitter.
But on the weekend of the wedding, solving that puzzle is the least of Seth's worries. He doesn't even get to check into the Ritz before he and his Groom Posse are drinking margaritas in SoBe with a gorgeous young Cuban woman, Cyndi Gonzalez, and her pal Duane, a large bald man wearing an albino python named Blossom around his shoulders. Just another night in SoBe, until Seth loses his suitcase (which contains Tina's custom wedding ring) and his posse.
He finally gets to the Ritz, only to discover in his suite an angry stripper named LaDawne — meant to be the entertainment for his not-happening bachelor party — along with her enormous "manager-slash-boyfriend," Wesley, waiting for her to be paid. When Seth goes for a walk on the beach to try to clear his head, he ends up rescuing Laurette, a Haitian refugee, and her two young children, who are on the verge of drowning after being dumped into the sea by the men she paid to take them to her sister in Miami.
Seth's night still isn't over; he borrows Wesley's pimped-out Escalade, complete with a video screen over the steering wheel playing an endless loop of porn, to go back to the airport. There he picks up his elderly parents, Rose and Sid, whose bubble-gum-pink luggage bears a big box of medicinal-marijuana-laced brownies that will prove to be a pivotal element in the plot.
As Seth, with Cyndi's stalwart help, tries to figure out how to help Laurette, pay LaDawne, locate his suitcase and his friends, and keep Tina from knowing about any of it, things get, well, complicated.
Barry has a lot of fun in Insane City with such satirical targets as the wedding industry and the 1 percent. Tina's icy father, Mike, is so unimaginably rich he's a member of "a fanatically exclusive and secret group of powerful businessmen called the Group of Eleven." His deepest desire is to get into the even more exclusive Group of Six, and he's using Tina's wedding to do it.
But the tone of this novel is always light. There are echoes of the Hangover franchise, and Insane City, with its brisk pace and broadly drawn characters, feels movie-ready. Barry's first novel, Big Trouble, became a movie in 2002, and Peter and the Starcatcher, one of the nine children's novels Barry has co-written with Ridley Pearson, became a Tony-winning Broadway hit last year.
Barry makes the insanity of this novel work by putting Seth, hapless but always likable, at its center. As the captain of a charter pirate ship says, "Any man fleeing from the police with three women, two children and an orangutan is a friend of mine."
Colette Bancroft can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435.