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Press Review March 21, 2002
 
Big Trouble
By Matt Taibbi Browse author
 
Page 3 of 4
 
Enter Big Trouble. If you don't think Barry's thinking posterity, read the bookjacket entry. He's kidding, but it's pretty unconvincing kidding, like a guy who works out a lot and thinks he has nice pecs wearing a shirtless Rambo costume for a Halloween party:

"In his career, Dave Barry has done just about everything -- written bestselling nonfiction, won a Pulitzer Prize, seen his life turned into a television series. And now, at last, he has joined the long list of literary figures from Jane Austen to Tolstoy who have made the transition from humor columnist to novelist -- and done it with a style and inventiveness that establishes that, yes, he is very good at that, too."

The joke doesn't even work -- Jane Austen was a comic writer. Or are they serious? It's definitely not easy to tell.

As for style and inventiveness -- the book is not invented and it's the same style. The style is exactly a mix of Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard, and columnist Dave Barry, with a little Michael Lewis and Tom Wolfe thrown in there. The plot is basically Hiaasen's Stormy Weather. Most of the characters are Elmore Leonard characters (beleaguered executive thrust into crime drama; crusty dumb drifter; a pair of cagey partner-operators, etc.) that even have classic Leonardian names like "Snake" and "Puggy." And except for the disturbing inclusion of profanity (the first three pages feature Barry using the words "fuck", "blowjob" and "asshole"), which establishes the necessary "gritty" tone, the actual writing is indistinguishable from the column, right down to same unbearable goddamn jokes. Even the first sentence of the book contains a classic Barry non-joke joke:
"Puggy had held down his job at the Jolly Jackal Bar and Grill, which did not have a grill, for almost three weeks."

The book is filled with the same deadpan "however" clauses that you get in all his columns, and they wind up with the same obscure references:

"Puggy also liked the way, in Miami, you were always hearing people talking Spanish. This made Puggy feel like he was living in a foreign country, which was his one ambition, although the only time he had ever actually been abroad was four years before, when, after a long and confusing weekend that began in Buffalo, he was briefly detained on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls for urinating in the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum."

Like Hiaasen Barry includes passages designed to impress reviewers as biting political satire. Here his drifter character Puggy decides what to do with the money someone has given him to vote five times for the same mayoral candidate:

"He scouted around for a good spot, quickly rejecting the tourist bars in the central Grove, where a beer could cost five dollars, which Puggy thought was way high, even for a guy who was pulling down ten dollars a vote."

It goes on and on like this. I didn't get through the book, but I saw enough to know that we are all doomed to watch Barry "develop as a writer" as he heads toward old age. There are already collections of print ads hanging in art galleries and serious film reviews of the commercials launched during the Super Bowl; get ready for the "discovery" of fiction writer Dave Barry. In any case, he moves into the final, easily defeating the Wall Street Journal's Daniel Pearl, who is apparently dead and should not have been the subject of ridicule in previous issues.

A SOUTH FLORIDA 69?

"Despite wealth, fame and a tendency to undermedicate himself, Dave Barry remains one of the funniest writers alive. Big Trouble is outrageously warped, cheerfully depraved -- and harrowingly close to true life in Florida. This book will do for our tourism industry what Dennis Rodman did for bridal wear."

-- Carl Hiassen on Dave Barry

"Carl Hiassen is one of South Florida's most vital natural resources."

-- Dave Barry on Carl Hiassen


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