Deliciously Demented Dorsey
Tim Dorsey is insane. He’s certifiable.
That’s the only conclusion one can reach after reading Triggerfish Twist. Actually, for me it wasn’t a conclusion, but a confirmation. I’d already made that observation around 15 years earlier, when I was a writer/editor for Palm Beach Media Group and its flagship magazine, Palm Beach Illustrated.
Another of the company’s group of luxury lifestyle publications was the now-defunct Tampa Bay Illustrated. Its editor had the good sense to recruit Dorsey to write a humor column for the monthly. As copy chief of the group, I had the good fortune of assuring that his copy was error-free. It was the highlight of my duties, as I sat at my desk laughing out loud while poring over his hilarious inventions.
Let me qualify my opening remarks: Dorsey is an insanely brilliant writer. He was, of course, restricted by space in his imaginative outpourings for the magazine. But with the free rein of novel writing, his creativity stretches in all directions, and he comes up with wild ideas that hover at the precipice of credibility, yet don’t quite go over it – well, except for one or two instances. One surmises that Dorsey was a hell-raiser in his youth, judging by the diabolical technical ideas he conjures for vengeance on malevolent members of society. Thus, for example, the main character escorts a sneering punk in his early 20s, who generally shows insolence toward anyone within his orbit, into a garage at gunpoint. The victim is forced to swivel a hula hoop while surrounded by electronic motion sensors rigged to ignite gasoline on the floor and explode if he stops during the many hours it takes before the fluid seeps into the concrete – which he does.
That and other incidents are peeks into Dorsey’s psyche. The only time I met him was at a book signing in Palm Beach County, where his talk to the audience revealed a burning sarcasm – funny, but indicative of contempt for the irrationality of human behavior. I bought a copy of the book, and told him about proofing his copy at the magazine and our mutual employment at the old Tampa Tribune. His response was a coldly indifferent, falsely polite dismissal.
Triggerfish Twist, set in Tampa, is part of his 22-novel Serge Storms series, comprising most of his oeuvre. Serge is a highly intelligent, but psychopathic guy whom Dorsey uses to skewer society. Dorsey’s books are more than escapist entertainment; they have a message.
Throughout Triggerfish Twist (almost), the sentences are short and snappy. Serge and his partner in crime, the ne’er-do-well Coleman, stop in a coffee shop in Tampa.
A waif with a pierced tongue greets him. “Mmgtgh skjhje?”
“What? I can’t understand you … Holy God! You’ve got a piece of metal rammed through your tongue! Don’t move—I’ll get help! …”
The café manager steps up. “Everything’s fine. Can I get you something?” …
“Latte? Mocha? Café con leche?”
“Chicory? Raspberry espresso? Frappuccino?”
“Decaf almondine? Cinnamon Explosion? …”
He walks back to the table.
“What’s the matter?’ asks Coleman.
“They don’t have any coffee. Let’s get out of here.”
But seriously …
Tonya Harding (left), Nancy Kerrigan
Serge comes to admire Jim Davenport, his quietly passive, family-man neighbor. “He’s my new role model,” Serge tells Sharon, his wacky, drug-addicted girlfriend. “Takes guts to walk in his shoes.”
This is one of the few serious moments in the book. Another, a four-page dissertation on society’s degradation, occurs later, after Serge has deceived a dean at the University of South Florida into believing society’s fringe character is an esteemed professor, and is asked to address a student body forum. He begins by referencing ice skater Tonya Harding’s incapacitation of her rival, Nancy Kerrigan, in the 1994 Olympics. (The book was published in 2002.)
“What an absolutely fascinating underwater view into the Kmart inflatable backyard American gene pool,” Serge orates. “I have a dirty little confession. I loved it! … We can learn everything we need to know about the incredibly rude, selfish, infantile country we’ve become by observing the human spokes revolving around the Tonya Harding sociocultural axis. The Greeks reveled in Homeric tragicomedies; the English lived out Shakespearean dramas. But we, America, are the cast of the Kerrigan farce. Is it any wonder we’ve thrown manners, compassion and respect out the window? We’ve become one big, self-absorbed nation holding up an ice skate, pointing at a broken lace and blubbering our eyes out. We don’t know our neighbors anymore. We have no shame, no consideration, no sense of duty or sacrifice. Need more metaphors? We won’t go the extra mile, meet anyone halfway.’”
Using a dropped Taco Supreme, he makes the point that we seek scapegoats for our perceived or real misfortunes. “Well, here’s a news flash for you. Believe it or not, the blacks and the gays and the Jews did not drop your taco. You dropped the fucking taco, my friend!”
He continues his lambasting of America’s citizenry. It’s a foil amid all of the zaniness. Dorsey pauses to bare his soul, and he is seething. The spotlight he casts on the sorry state into which America has evolved is searing, and his comedic vehicle for bringing it out of the shadows is nonpareil.
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