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Tricky Business – by Dave Barry

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The third of three reviews of humorous books from the remainder bin.

Not content to be to pre-eminent humorist of our time, unsatisfied with a Pulitzer Prize, unfulfilled with his hedonistic rock star lifestyle, Dave Barry decided to take up writing funny novels. On behalf of writers of funny novels everywhere let me just say, Thanks Dave, that’s a big help. It would be OK if he sucked at it, but he doesn’t. Bastard.

Barry writes in a fairly specific genre I call Floridians-on-the-Make novels. Carl Hiaasen for example, or Elmore Leonard. You take a pack a characters — some sympathetic, some evil, some just plain crazy — bring them together through the use of some macguffin, mix in some violence, sex, and a double dose of irony, then sit back and let all hell break loose.

What you end up with is what is commonly called a beach read. Speaking as someone who spends as much time at the beach as is possible for a Midwesterner, I love beach reading. The last thing I want when I’m passing time getting myself all golden brown is to approach anything seriously. On the beach, you’re not looking to pause to appreciate an opaquely poetic passage. You’re not looking to relate some symbolic act to a deep insight into the State of Man. Mostly you’re just looking for something entertaining that won’t require a protracted explanation if a girl in a bikini happens to ask you what you’re reading. If you answer, “Fathers and Sons, by Turgenev. It’s a philosophical tract about generational conflict set in pre-revolutionary Russia,” she’ll just say “Oh,” and then as she spreads the word down the beach, large, uncouth men will line up to kick sand in your face. On the other hand, if you say, “It’s one of Dave Barry’s books – pretty funny stuff,” she likely say, “Cool. Wanna make out?” Happens all the time.

In a nutshell, Tricky Business, brings together a half-assed stoner rock band, a particularly brave single working mom, a sleazy business man, a scheming boat captain, a mob boss, a pair of Oscar-and-Felix senior citizens, and a malodorous blonde bombshell, on a gambling boat in the middle of a hurricane. Then, as they say, high jinks ensue.

A good beach read is essentially the novelization of a fun movie yet to be made. It needs to be accessible. The characters should be clearly drawn and entertaining, but you should not identify with them so closely that it becomes a deeply personal experience. There should be sex and violence, but not so graphic as to be disturbing (Barry straddles the line on violating this principal in one particularly violent scene). Most of all, it needs to be properly paced. Tricky Business has all those things. You can almost feel the movie happening as you read, right through the way Barry cuts from scene to scene ever more rapidly as the climax approaches. Of course, Dave Barry being Dave Barry, you get the added bonus of non-stop gags and laughs along the way.

Sadly, I didn’t read this on a beach, but on a cross-country plane trip. More sadly, there were no bikini-clad girls on the plane to ask me what I was reading. Despite that, I enjoyed the hell of Tricky Business and I’m saving Barry’s first novel, Big Trouble, for an actual beach. I need a vacation.

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About David Mazzotta