Dave Barry, a Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist, and Alan Zweibel, an Emmy Award-winning former writer for “Saturday Night Live,” dedicate their new novel, “Lunatics,” to their wives, “who, if we had discussed the idea with them ahead of time, would definitely have discouraged us.”
It may be a long, cold winter at home for both of these guys. “Lunatics,” the first joint effort from Barry and Zweibel, is a nonstop parade of monotonous absurdity told in alternating voices through the eyes of two Jewish soccer dads from New Jersey.
Philip Horkman is a kindhearted, polite husband and father. He drives a Prius, owns a pet store called the Wine Shop and referees youth soccer games on the weekend. (He’ll be played by Steve Carell in the Universal Pictures adaptation.) The aptly named Jeffrey Peckerman is a racist, misogynistic, homophobic husband and father who works as a forensic plumber, a job that fetches $300 per hour and “has proven to be crucial in several high-profile court cases.”
The two get off on the wrong foot when Horkman calls Peckerman’s daughter offsides during the championship game of the local 10-year-old soccer division. Then, when Peckerman walks into Horkman’s pet store the next day looking for — well — wine, an episode involving a lemur touches off an inexplicable mess that sends the two on the lam as wanted terrorists. Later, they’re celebrated as international ambassadors for democracy.
Then it really gets weird.
The plot in “Lunatics” is simply a vehicle for delivering Barry’s and Zweibel’s clunky one-liners. For example, Horkman calls a “clothing-optional” Caribbean cruise a “floating genital convention,” and later, when Peckerman refuses to wear a traditional Yemeni robe called a thob, he lisps, “You can thtick your thob where the thun don’t thine.” These are comics who never met a body-part joke they didn’t like. Horkman tells us that a certain woman’s fake breasts are “filled with enough rubber to erase the Empire State Building.” At any rate, all of these gags are drowned out by the novel’s flat, relentless silliness, which renders what might have been hilarious insanity to dull inanity.
Toward the end of the novel, Horkman marvels at Peckerman’s numbness to the duo’s latest disaster. “As if depositing a literal boatload of bananas onto a beach, a pirate’s head exploding on a rock, and being lifted into a black helicopter by four army guys who said absolutely nothing during a flight to a hostile country didn’t matter.” By that point in “Lunatics,” it’s hard to feel that any of it matters.
Wilwol is a writer living in Washington.
By Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel
Putnam. 309 pp. $25.95