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Dave Barry's 'Insane City' is a valentine to Miami

Posted 7:36am on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013

There's a method to Dave Barry's madness.

It pretty much works like this: If the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer is amused by some foolish notion -- such as a pirate ship defending itself by firing frozen chicken nuggets from a cannon -- it's going to wind up in the pages of his book.

No plot development is too absurd. No character can go too far over the top.

Barry's new novel, Insane City, chronicling the misadventures of Seth Weinstein and friends in advance of a weekend wedding ceremony in Miami, follows that formula to a tee.

The story has an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink quality to it. There are pimps, a python and pothead billionaires. There are Haitian refugees, Russian gold diggers and an orangutan named Trevor.

And, yes, there really is a pirate ship battle in which chicken nuggets are used as ammo.

It's Barry's first solo adult novel since Tricky Business in 2002.

The author fielded our silly questions about the book.

What was the genesis of Insane City? Did your real-life wedding go haywire like Seth's? Or might this story have materialized to you in a weird dream, the way that Samuel Taylor Coleridge was inspired to write his classic poem about Kublai Khan? Or were you contractually obligated to fill more than 300 pages with something, anything, and this is what you ended up with?

All of those things. Also, I attended an outdoor wedding on Key Biscayne and, while I was sitting there staring out at the Atlantic, I wondered what would happen if some rafters drifted ashore. Also, at some point I visited Jungle Island, a Miami tourist attraction that has orangutans, and it occurred to me that I could write a story with an orangutan in the role of one of the romantic leads.

When you write a novel in which situations spiral out of control, do you know in advance where it all will wind up? Or are you winging it and hoping to find someplace safe to land at the end?

I knew how I wanted it to end. I was not sure how I was going to get there. I'm still not sure how I got there.

What is it about Miami that makes it such an "insane" city?

People come here from all over the world -- to work, to party, to commit felonies, to seek elective office, sometimes to do all of these things simultaneously. So you have a wide range of residents, coupled with humidity and many large non-native snakes. And drugs. It is not a recipe for normality.

Do you have any insights into why weddings bring out the 'Zilla in brides? Why they cause members of "Groom Posses," as you call them, to become drunken adolescents?

Weddings make women crazy. There are few exceptions to this. And youngish men will avail themselves of any opportunity to be immature.

What's your beef with lactose (which you describe in the book as "evil," "death" and "Glenn Close in that movie where she stalks whatshisname and boils his daughter's rabbit")?

I'm fine with lactose. I was merely noting in the book that lactose and gluten have somehow become the Pol Pot and Hitler of the nutritional world.

When you write humor, is there any line that you refuse to cross? And how often do you cross that line anyway?

There are topics I don't think are suitable for humor, or at least my humor. And context is important. Jokes that might work in a book could be totally inappropriate for a newspaper column. I'm assuming that people who read my books are not expecting me to be tasteful.

Do you ever worry that the Pulitzer people might show up saying they made a mistake and they want their award back?

This is my biggest fear. I would keep my Pulitzer Prize hidden, if I knew where it was.

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