Monday, December 31, 2012

Lunatics, by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel

Hands-down, nuttiest book of the year.

The new year is upon us, and tonight marks the start of the annual tradition of assessing our lives and determining how we would like them to change. We look back over the past year, or several years, and see all the stagnation, all the accumulation, all the sloth and selfishness and business, and resolve that this new year is going to be different.

Or, if we are very, very lucky (and perhaps very, very driven), we look back and see just what we have accomplished. What we have gained. How we have changed. Then, we can look forward with the confidence born of accomplishments and decide how our future lives will be shaped by our pasts.

This process is never cut and dry, never simple, and usually not as conveniently bookended as a calendar year. Life is messy, in a way that fiction doesn't have to be. Which is why we expect the change from characters in books that we seldom recognize in our own lives. Page One is January 1st, and the final page is New Year's Eve. A character's life is never the same (or perhaps I should say "should not be the same") after a story concludes. The events and realizations affect a character just like they do us real-world folks... only usually much more neatly and tightly.

This year has been for me a year of reading and writing wildly, watching unbalanced characters in stories survive (or not) tumult greater than my own. So I figure, what better way to wrap up such a year than with a book called Lunatics?

Of all the fiction and nonfiction adventures I've been taken on this year, this one is without contest the craziest. Barry and Zweibel have a knack for what writers call "turning it faster," that ability to take a situation and test the boundaries of just how far it can be pushed. You know that moment when you think, "This can't get any worse for these characters!" and then it does? Yeah, these guys master that technique.

But it got me wondering just near the end whether they could bring it back -- whether or not I would see how the characters are altered by their experiences. The two main characters, Horkman and Peckerman, have an adventure of mishaps nuttier than most of us could imagine. But their attitudes and their perspectives, by the final page, have not changed one smidge. These are the same two deluded individuals who started the book. Yes, they had me laughing out loud and clapping my hand over my gaping mouth every five minutes. But at some point, the story needed more than humor.

It needed what we all yearn for on January 1. Change.

Who wants to look back on the past year and realize that the year has not changed them one tiny bit? More to the point, who could experience a year full of trials and accomplishments and not grow as a person?

As we slide into the new year, here's what I wish for all you Microphone readers. I wish you a year full of epiphanies and adventures, challenges conquered and struggles overcome. I wish you a year of both self-cultivation and feral jungle flowering. And I wish you the opportunity to look back on it all.

Life isn't what we do or what happens to us. Life is how those events change us, and even more so, how we change them. May you become more the person you want to be in 2013. And may your year have a storybook ending, where the hero and heroine stand atop the hill, better for accepting adventure and living their lives.

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