Insane City a great chaotic journey through Miami

Insane City a great chaotic journey through Miami

Chloe Pfeiffer

At first glance, Insane City seems likely to be rooted more in ridiculousness than real substance. It would be easy for Dave Barry, a humor columnist who has been dubbed “the funniest man in America,” to sacrifice character development for jokes or good writing for a simple and silly plot, especially when the story can so easily be compared to The Hangover – a “Groom Posse,” a wild city (Miami, where Barry wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning column), and crazy situation after crazy situation.

But there’s more to Insane City than just craziness for the sake of being crazy. The novel revolves around Seth, the good-looking but unambitious groom who is marrying Tina, a passionate and successful woman who is way out of his league and obsessed with having the perfect wedding.

But of course something – nay, everything – goes wrong, starting when Seth almost immediately loses his own wedding ring upon arriving in Miami. No plot summary would do it justice, but the story involves strippers, a secret group of powerful businessmen, an orangutan, a python and a pirate ship – and, best of all, somehow it all makes sense. Barry has a gift for subplots – and, more importantly, subplots that you actually care about – that converge and intertwine at the perfect moments; his ridiculousness is obviously unrealistic but strangely believable. The result is a wild chase around Miami, a domino effect of absurdity.

But the heart of the story doesn’t lie in its crazy occurrences, but rather, in its characters. The most important plotline begins when Seth unexpectedly rescues a Haitian refugee and her two sons from the beach, and has no idea what to do. Seth has never really cared about anything – that was always Tina’s thing – and now he’s completely out of his element. As Seth races around Miami, he is not only trying to save his own wedding but the lives of people who are depending on him – despite the fact that they don’t even speak the same language.

That’s what so great about Insane City, what elevates it to a level above what you may expect. These characters truly care for each other, even the ones who have only just met. The relationships in Insane City are its strongest feature, perhaps because there are so many types – the reader watches as friendships grow, as a couple drifts apart, as an ape falls in love with a human. Insane City is dark and suspenseful and hilarious, but also, more than you’d expect, it is sweet and personal.

Barry came to speak at Book Passage on Saturday, Feb. 9, to promote his novel, and as he spoke it became clear that Miami was the only city insane enough for his plotline and motley crew of characters. Miami is a force unto itself – crazy, violent, and dangerous. Insane City is based in ridiculousness and, of course, insanity, but nothing, Barry is quick to note, can compare to the real thing. Miami is the easiest city to base a book in, he told his rapt audience, because the insanity is already there, already stranger than fiction; he has seen and read about true occurrences that, if included in a novel, would be criticized for being too unrealistic. Reading Insane City makes you long to live in a city like Miami, in which chaos and violence and ironic absurdity reign supreme – and in which there is someone like Barry to write about it all.