"Lunatics" (G.P. Putnam's Sons), by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel: In his popular books and newspaper columns, Dave Barry displays such a zany wit that on the rare occasions he's being serious he actually has to specify, "I am not making this up."
Paragraph after paragraph, his columns are laugh-out-loud funny. Unfortunately, that charm is lacking in "Lunatics," a novel he co-wrote with "Saturday Night Live" writer Alan Zweibel.
The book is certainly engaging and creative, and the reader is constantly wondering what will happen next, but the humor is more muted. The comedy lies more in the story's sheer outlandishness than in the classic zing that Dave Barry fans might expect.
"Lunatics" is the story of a mild-mannered man who, while refereeing a girls' soccer game, angers a distinctly loathsome parent. A simple offside call touches off a series of escalating confrontations and adventures that, somehow, end up having global implications.
One of the protagonists is the gentle Philip Horkman, who owns a pet store named The Wine Shop and whose idea of watching the game is settling down for an episode of "Wheel of Fortune." The other is the detestable Jeffrey Peckerman, a selfish boor who can take any situation and make it worse.
The two characters take turns narrating the chapters. The technique makes clear just what a Ned Flanders-Homer Simpson vibe they share.
Following Horkman's disputed soccer call, the pair eventually find themselves involved in a road rage incident that New York authorities mistake for a terrorist plot. They escape a massive manhunt by stowing away on a clothing-optional cruise, and from there things get really crazy.
With a Forrest Gump-like ability to land in historical moments, they're thrust into separate conflicts involving Cuba, China, Mogadishu, Israel and Palestine. There are even cameo appearances by Donald Trump and Sarah Palin.
Without giving away too much, the protagonists end up with high-profile roles at a Republican National Convention (even though Horkman is a Democrat). U.S. presidential politics are never the same after that.
The outlandish scenarios are certainly entertaining, and as bizarre as their adventures are, there's a strange sense of believability to the story. That helps keep the story fresh and the pages turning.
"Lunatics" has plenty of bright spots, including moments of potty humor that are sophomoric yet hysterical. The book is creative, unusual and over the top. Just don't expect it to be as laugh-a-minute as a typical Dave Barry column.