The comic crime novels of Tim Dorsey, set in Florida and starring charming sociopath Serge A. Storms and his perpetually loaded best pal Coleman, leave his e'er extrapolating fan base breathless with laughter. There is also a profound sense of awe over how Dorsey, with each book in the series, continually tops previous hilarious high points in societal satire.
"What people don't realize is that I'm not topping myself. It's more that Florida continues to top Florida," Dorsey says.
He's on the phone from his Tampa home the day before leaving on a book tour in support of his 16th Serge adventure, "The Riptide Ultra-Glide" (William Morrow, 304 pages). Dorsey will read and sign books Friday at R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison.
Dorsey pauses as he ponders the ongoing lunacy of his home state. He says, "To explain this concept, think of writers who might set a series in the Midwest or mountain states, where you get static settings and a normal, ongoing sense of the people. There's some comfort and reliability in that, but Florida just gets weirder and weirder on a daily base."
Regular readers of Dorsey's catalog know that Serge is a serial killer - but, darn it, the best of all possible serial killers! He only preys on those who would take advantage of the weak, or that figuratively or literally disrespect the natural treasures of his beloved Florida. Folks who cross or disappoint Serge not only tend to end up dead - they do so in an array of creative ways that suggest Mr. Science if he studied under Hannibal Lecter.
In "The Riptide Ultra-Glide," Serge and Coleman are attempting to demo a reality television show based around how the Florida Experience affects tourists. They find the ideal subjects in Patrick and Barbara McDougal, a recently laid-off husband/wife couple from Wisconsin who - through no fault of their own - have tumbled into the worst-possible tsunami of Floridian lunacy.
To start, the McDougals are accidentally thrust into a violent war between Latino locals and a gang of Kentucky hillbillies over the lucrative underground OxyContin market. Serge intervenes, of course, but like a kook magnet, all he does is draw more and more oddball situations into play, ranging from well-muscled and supremely irritating beach dudes to whether a seagull can be used as a murder weapon.
In a wonderful subplot, Coleman, based on a profile in a High Times-style magazine about recreational dope, becomes an increasingly-recognizable celebrity. At a crucial juncture, readers find out whether Coleman's new and zombie-like legion of stoner fans can affect change for a better world.
As with key structure points in earlier novels - insurance scams in poor neighborhoods, bumbling spycraft in the age of terrorism, the art of corporate downsizing, ad-hysterical-nauseam - Dorsey delights in the perception that he's making this stuff up.
In "Riptide," the MacDougals, honorable career teachers, have been informed they won't be rehired at year's end due to budget cuts. Then they're immediately fired to make room for the rush of new teachers, freshly hired after the public panicked over news of the original teacher layoffs.
"People think this stuff is crazy, that I'm joking about stuff like this," Dorsey says. "But this is something I see over and over in bureaucracies. It's like a pendulum: it swings one way and they overreact, then it swings back and they overreact that way. I'm just absolutely telling the truth. The only thing I do is write it tersely and streamline it. As my friend (the comic writer) Carl Hiassen says, 'Some of these stories are just too true to be good.'"
There are two interesting cultural aspects to Dorsey's satire. One is that, if indeed all of his plots are based on reality gone wild, and these nutty things are happening all around us, then, by definition, an overwhelming percentage of weirdos are making life miserable for a small minority. And, second, said weirdos are completely self-absorbed and never recognize themselves as being supreme irritants.
"These are observations I make all the time," Dorsey says. "Not sure how you'll put it in the newspaper, but the world is full of typical (jerks). And, yes, I love making fun of them. Readers ask, 'Aren't you worried about possible repercussions from someone you've offended?'
"But over time I've learned something very important. You can write anything you want about the typical (jerks) because they can't read! All they can do is look at porn or ride dune buggies."
The Krewe of Timmy D
Over the course of 16 Serge A. Storm adventures, novelist Tim Dorsey has attracted a huge group of loyal readers. Unlike, though, the sort who timidly show up at library readings, these folks span the spectrum of humanity. It calls to mind another popular Florida-based entertainer, Jimmy Buffett and his Parrotheads.
This phenomenon is pretty different for authors, though, considering there are sold-out, week-long Serge Cruises in the Caribbean as well as an annual live-music/tailgating gala in the middle of the Everglades called Serge's Glades Jamboree. Attendees at any or all of these events might be accountants, tattoo'd bikers, surfers, housewives, and virtually anyone who figures the only way to survive in our world is to laugh at it.
Dorsey describes a recent reading at which he tried to gratefully convey the widening demographic of his audiences. He pointed at an elderly lady in the crowd and said, "Look, there's a woman actually knitting."
Without missing a beat and not bothering to look up from her flashing needles, she replied, "Yeah. And I'm knitting a straightjacket."