Book Review: Lunatics
The words continue, pulling you along gently. You turn the pages, but not with the rabid intensity of a Dan Brown thriller or the accessible imagination of a J.K Rowling joyride. You turn the pages at your own pace. Because you want to. Because this book brings you a quiet joy. You smile again.
Strange things begin happening to the characters -- strange, absurd, random things. You smile again. It’s starting to get funnier -- crazy people are doing crazy things. You’re enjoying yourself. And then you come across the first truly ridiculous scene -- the delightfully obscene sequence of words and events that forces a snort of laughter and a sizable clump of mucus out of your nose, through the air and onto your girlfriend’s coffee table:
“The cop tried to grab the lemur, and somehow -- I don’t know if the lemur did this on purpose, or what, the Taser went off, right into the second cop’s neck. He made a kind of whimpering sound, then fell sideways. While he was falling, his gun went off.
The next part, I still don’t like to think about. What happened was, the bullet went straight up, right through the metal floor of the helicopter. The good news was, the metal slowed the bullet down enough so that it was no longer traveling at a lethal velocity. The bad news was, it was still traveling fast enough to lodge itself in the scrotum of the helicopter pilot.”
Those two paragraphs are hilarious even without context. When they are placed within a larger narrative that also includes a little girl’s soccer match, a botched Oprah’s book club meeting, an inadvertent revolution in Cuba, the accidental thwarting of an fundamentalist Islamist effort to annihilate Israel, and the Republican National Convention, they become divine.
"Lunatics" tells the story of Philip Horkman and Jeffrey Peckerman, two very different men with very different sets of values, opinions and desires. When Philip, who referees 11 year-old girls’ soccer matches for fun and exercise, makes a questionable offside decision involving Jeffrey’s daughter, Jeffrey calls him an asshole. Philip takes offense, but lets the incident go. After all, they’re never going to see each other again.
But fate has other plans. Through a series of alarming coincidences, the two men are thrust together. They become enemies, and as their conflict escalates, it begins to cause serious damage. The damage is so serious, in fact, that the United States government labels them as dangerous terrorists. The bumbling idiots are forced to work together as they run from the most powerful military force in the history of our species.
What follows is, quite simply, one of the most deliciously funny pieces of light reading you’ll ever set your eyes upon. Barry’s nationally-syndicated humor column is among the finest in this country, and his writing pedigree is no joke -- he won a Pulitzer Prize for "Commentary" in 1988. Zweibel’s career has included stints as a writer on this country’s comic grooming ground, "Saturday Night Live", and Emmy Awards for his contribution to shows like "Monk" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
The only criticism you might level at "Lunatics" is that the book isn’t deeply, viscerally, politically funny in the tradition of comics like George Carlin or Richard Pryor. Sure, it’s a truly enjoyable work of absurd fiction that deftly ridicules the war on terror and the American political system. But it doesn’t make you realize anything you didn’t already know.
"Lunatics" would probably work better as a film, and it’s no surprise then that it has been picked up by Universal, with Steve Carell on board to bring the words to life. It’s not a novel that you’ll remember for the rest of your life. But that doesn’t mean it won’t bring you boatloads of fun.
Reach contributor Kunal here