Southern Lit–Tim Dorsey’s The Big Bamboo

There’s a certain genre in novel-writing that’s gaining a lot of traction but not a lot of understanding. Crime and comedy are natural partners to anybody who’s spent any time studying the masters of either genre. (For instance, the deadly-dull CSI series would be immensely improved with a joke or two. It’s what makes Rescue Me the best show on television now. Deal with it, Deadwood.) Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah–a book review. So crime + humor is an easily recognizable genre–Carl Hiaasen is the alpha dog here–but it’s a tough one to classify. Are they mysteries? Not really. Are they thrillers? Not exactly. Are they “literary fiction”? Absolutely not, thank God. They’re sometimes called “crimedys,” a horrible afterbirth of a word that nonetheless comes the closest to hitting the mark.

Hiaasen may be the most recognizable name, but Tampa’s Tim Dorsey is fast (in publishing terms) becoming a household industry himself. I’ve dug Dorsey ever since his first book, Florida Roadkill, and not just because he was kind enough to give me a good blurb for Bluff City. He’s witty, with a vaudevillian’s sense of comedic timing and a teenager’s sense of humor–throw enough beer, violence and sex on the page and everyone’s gonna be pleased.

Dorsey’s mouthpiece is a semi-lucid, Florida-history-obsessed, ferretlike lunatic by the name of Serge Storms. Serge began existence as an inventive, agenda-minded serial killer–he once barbecued a Bubba the Love Sponge stand-in by basting him in butter and deep-frying him in tinfoil on the beach, if I recall correctly–but now serves as id run wild. Dorsey injects Serge into a given situation–politics, Key West, suburbia–and basically lets him Blow Shit Up with abandon. In The Big Bamboo, the premise is simple–Serge and his drunk/stoner buddy Coleman hit Hollywood and, yep, Blow Shit Up.

Dorsey’s prose is manic, his jokes of the throw-everything-at-the-wall variety. And though it often goes up on two wheels, the narrative never tumbles off the track. If you’ve never read Dorsey before, I’d start with Florida Roadkill, then cycle your way through the next five novels before Bamboo. But it’s well worth it–if nothing else, you’ll learn some inventive new ways to dust that pesky co-worker.


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