"Wear sunscreen. Don't do heroin."
There's a problem we writers sometimes have. We get bored. Most of the time, at least with me, that boredom stays off the page. It's a very small, contained boredom. This is mainly because this blog is the most I have ever been published. However, with someone like Tim Dorsey, boredom can become a much bigger, more unfocused beast. A beast that threatens sometimes to engulf certain books. Now, Dorsey's no stranger to a slump, of course, but when Tim Dorsey gets bored and his mind starts wandering, especially when Tim Dorsey's mind starts wandering and gets published, the situation is, of course, a bit more dire than when my mind starts wandering. Dorsey's mind results in things like The Riptide Ultra-Glide.
The book is a mishmash of things, never following one character for long, in what I assume was an attempt to get back to the early days of books like Florida Roadkill, where there was no main character and several different plots all together, with no single plot being central. In recent years, Dorsey's grown away from that format (I think the last book was the unofficial first conclusion to the series, Stingray Shuffle), preferring to stick with Serge and Coleman (or sometimes Serge and Lenny, Coleman's replacement) while various things happen around them, all of it coming together in a central thread. It says something that his strongest book in the past four years has been Gator-A-Go-Go, a book where there was a singular plot that held all the attention.
But while it's a perfectly serviceable beach read for the several hours it'll take to read it, I can't recommend The Riptide Ultra-Glide to many people. Readers who wish to experience Dorsey should try any of the numerous other works in his collection. It's readable, but I suggest that only the die-hard actually try reading it, since it seems to have been written for them.
Why? Well, read on...
The Riptide Ultra-Glide tells three stories, all interlocking and interweaving, along with a few random side stories. First, there are Serge and Coleman. Serge has, this time around, decided that his life would make an awesome reality TV show. So he and Coleman grab a Camcorder and start filming the various goings on and local spots Serge wants to tape on his way around his most favorite of states. Naturally, this involves a few key object lessons in being pleasant that some hardened criminals sorely need, and the usual madcap mayhem-and-narcotics that one comes to expect from the Florida Roadkill books. Second, there's the story of Catfish, head of an operation that smuggles pain pills from phony Florida clinics all the way back to his home state. But someone's calling in tips on Catfish's operation, and he has to find a new way of moving pain pills, fast. And finally, an elderly couple from Wisconsin, Pat and Barbara, have decided to vacation in Florida, staying at the picturesque Casablanca Hotel along good old US-1. Which may have changed a little since the last time Pat was there at age six. And slowly, these plot threads start to stretch out...
And then things get weird.
Well, not too weird, at least not for a Tim Dorsey novel. Everything's fairly commonplace for one of those. Paths will cross, people will get in deeper than they ever wanted to, there will be a few twists and turns as people aren't who they say they are, and in the end, our heroes will ride off into the sunset to execute more people in elaborate manners. It's all very formulaic, except...
Except this time, it really isn't all that much. But that's the issue with the book. Well, one of the issues.
You see, there's an art to breaking a formula, just like everything else. If this were a novel entirely about Catfish and the problems faced by his operation, if it were a novel about the tourists, it would be a much different novel, and Serge and Coleman could show up without wrecking the book. But the book is written from a singular focus, and sadly that focus is Serge and Coleman, with the other incidents off to the side. But it isn't content with that. It wants to be all those other books, too. It's like Tim Dorsey tried to write a novel twice before he just gave up and added his two most recognizable characters to the cast.The problem is, he didn't bother clearing up the trails and making the book readable. So what you have are three stories that fail to come together until about the last forty pages or so. Which would be fine in, maybe, about half the books Dorsey's ever written, but it's painfully noticeable here
Also painfully noticeable here is Dorsey's soapboxing. The Florida Roadkill series has always been one where there has been some preaching, from the moment an obnoxious homophobic radio talk show host gets alcohol poured down the wrong end and is forced to beg passersby on the street for an enema (In a show of subtlety, he gets hit by a trolley). But there was always the sense he was more focused on the plot and less focused on the violent deaths of his villains and supporting characters. As the books progressed, the preaching got more obvious, sure, but never to the point where it was in-your-face. In this book, that...changes. We get detailed descriptions of every scam, every dirty little detail of sordid life in Florida, every little thing that tourists have happen to them. It's not presented as part of the story, it's just kind of...presented. Or ranted about. And it kind of takes me out of the story when he does it. When K.W. Jeter did it in Noir, it didn't earn him any great favor with me, and sadly Dorsey doesn't earn any, either.
Which isn't to say that there aren't laugh-out-loud moments. One of the best plots, and it actually should have been a book all on its own, is that Coleman somehow winds up as the stoned guru of an entire group of college kids and various burnouts throughout Florida after an article is run on him in a weed enthusiast magazine. The entire story of how Catfish got his name is actually kind of funny in an escalating-accident kind of way. And Serge's dialogues with Coleman are as fresh as they've ever been. But...well...
But it's not enough to recommend the novel on. It's lacking, it's disappointing, and while it might be fun for fans, I can't recommend it. I know I seem to be saying that a lot, but it's true. People who want to get into Dorsey would be better off reading his earlier works. Take this one to the beach, you might get some laughs out of it, but don't buy this or pick it up thinking it's up to the gonzo standards of his earlier work. It most certainly isn't.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
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AND MANY OTHERS