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Wednesday, May 23, 2007 

Southern Lit: Tim Dorsey's Hurricane Punch

Tim Dorsey's a writer you either get or you don't. He's slapstick combined with absolute on-the-ground realism, social commentary woven within satire so broad you can't even see the edges of it. And man, any time he's got a new book coming out, I'm right there.

His latest, Hurricane Punch, came out earlier this year, and I finally had a few minutes to finish it off last weekend. See, a Dorsey novel isn't something you can flip through while waiting in line at the bank or whatever. No, it requires a mindset, preferably with some Buffett on the radio and a cold beer at your side. This is literature as lifestyle.

Dorsey's specialty is Florida crime, in that genre that combines comedy and violence into a hybrid that nobody's seemed to come up with a good name for -- "black comedy" doesn't quite get it (and has some unfortunate connotations for anybody not particularly well-versed in literary theory), and "crimedy" sounds just stupid. Whatever -- it's crime, it's humor, and the two mesh perfectly.

With Dorsey, the destination's not nearly as important as the ride. He picks a theme -- the film industry, Florida politics, ecoterrorism -- and cuts his two creations, Serge and Coleman (sort of a more homicidal version of Earl and Randy Hickey, though created years before) loose to wreak intentional and unintentional havoc. Hurricane Punch's theme is in the title -- no, it's not punch -- and Dorsey does his best to batter his state with as many hurricanes as possible in a single season, wrapping them in a murder mystery, psychotherapy, kidnapping, and delusions of Hendrixdom. (You kinda have to read the book.)

With Serge, a serial killer with a conscience, Dorsey is in an enviable position for a writer. He's created a character who can literally become anything -- politician, actor, doctor, Mafia don -- and it'd not only be believable, it'd be conceivable. Serge's fascination with all things Florida gives Dorsey a limitless canvas on which to work. I'd imagine many of the bars mentioned by name in here have their own little paragraphs framed up and mounted on the wall. (Reminds me of the time I was in the Woody Creek Tavern in Aspen, famed stomping grounds of the late Hunter S. Thompson. Framed right next to the exit was a blank waiter's ticket on which Hunter had scrawled, "I promise never to throw smoke bombs in the bar again. HST.")

Dorsey's also got a kind of metafiction going on in his books, where certain of his characters act like their equivalent cliches -- the hardboiled Raymond Chandleresque detective, the hardbitten crew of roughneck marines, the naughty pair of gorgeous hitchhikers -- but it's done in a winking, knowing way. It's tough to explain, but it's clear that Dorsey knows he's playing with someone else's toys and having fun with their limitations, like a master chef cooking up Pop Tarts.

The Serge/Dorsey freight train could literally run another fifty years; in Florida, when they ran out of land, they built bridges over the water. I wouldn't mind seeing another departure from Florida; Serge has visited New York and Hollywood, but D.C., New Orleans, and -- God forbid -- Europe and Asia remain as yet untouched.

So Tim, if you're reading this, see what you can do about sneaking Serge and Coleman onto a Chinese oil tanker. They'd be a hell of a lot more fun to see in action than Jack Bauer.



Jay Busbee runs Yahoo! Sports' NASCAR Blog From The Marbles, Atlanta Magazine's Atlanta sports blog Right Down Peachtree, and the Southern sports/humor blog Sports Gone South. He also writes for damn near anybody who'll throw him a buck and a byline, and he's at work on the books The Quiet Dynasty: The History Of The Atlanta Braves' Championship Run (2009, Sports Publishing LLC) and God Is A Bulldog: Georgia, Florida, And The Greatest Play In College Football History (2010, Sports Publishing LLC). Click below for more info on his novels, articles, and comics.
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